When it comes to distance running, the Kenyans know their stuff. The East African nation has achieved 78 Olympic medals in middle and long distance running events since it first competed at the 1956 games, 24 of them gold.
Image from Wikipedia
There are a wide range of factors that have made Kenya’s athletes so successful at distance running, but one of them stems from the extreme topography of the terrain the athletes began training in at a young age.
Wilson Kiprotich. Image from Wikpedia
While it might be difficult for you to replicate the Amboseli National Park or the foothills of Kilimanjaro in your home town, you can still slip the punishing “Kenyan hills” exercise into your training regime.
What are Kenyan Hills?
The premise of a Kenyan hill is pretty basic; simply find a hill and run up and down it. But in order to get the most out of the exercise you need to do it right. Kenyan hills involve hard running uphill over short distances, followed by a short, cool-down jog.
Abel Karui. Image from Wikipedia
The point is not to cover the sorts of distances you might usually cover as part of your training, but to coax your body into pushing itself harder over challenging terrain. Working hard on hills in this way will have a marked affect on your performance in flat races.
How should I do them?
Find a convenient hill that will take between 1 and 2.5 minutes to sprint up. If you are new to running or want to ease in to the exercise you are advised to choose a shorter hill.
Catherine Ndereba. Image from Wikipedia
Go to the starting point and then sprint up the hill as hard as you can, not easing off the pace until you reach the top. Then, jog back down in a relaxed way without stopping to rest in between.
Try to spend a similar amount of time descending as you did ascending. With the process complete, turn around and do it again! Try to complete each circuit ten times.
How do they help?
Kenyan hills can help you in many ways. As well as the general benefits of improving your stamina and getting you out of your comfort zone, Kenyan hills can help you to increase your stride length and frequency, improve your rates of respiration when exercising and increase your aerobic capacity.
Mt. Elgon, Kenya. Image from Wikipedia
Further more, this kind of exercise can help to increase the strength of your calf and thigh muscles, necessary in giving you the power to compete well over longer distances, and increase the strength and mobility of your ankle joint, which will in turn improve the general efficacy of your running technique.
The Kenyan hills exercise might be punishing, but in order to further your skills as a runner, you have to push yourself hard! Start on a low hill and build up to higher and steeper inclines and you will soon see a dramatic improvement in your overall running performance.