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Training for a Hilly Half Marathon on a Treadmill

BY Hal Higdon

I would play around with different angles on your treadmill. At least some of your training should be for a period of 10 or more minutes, angle kept the same. Not too steep.

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I am training for the half connected to the San Francisco Marathon. It will be my first half, and I am currently using your Intermediate Half program. The trouble is that everything around here is flat, so I have had to turn to the treadmill for help. What incline should I use to train for those hills? I am having trouble finding the specific incline of the route, or interpreting what the available information means. A course description says that the minimum elevation 26, maximum 296, with a gain of 819 feet. I don’t know how to interpret that.

Also, how many of the runs (or which runs) should be done on the treadmill? Should I use the “varied” setting or just keep it on a certain climb? Any specific exercises to help build strength?


I would not overthink the situation. 819 feet divided by 13.1? That comes out to 62.5 feet per mile of climb. Yes, that is somewhat steep. Normally, I would class the course as “rolling” more than “hilly.” But on closer examination of the map, I notice that the last 3 miles contain 200 feet of climbing. Gulp! Not much of a problem if you live and train in the Bay Area, but for someone in, say, Kansas or Florida, I can understand why you might be nervous.

Still, it’s not like you are going to be given an 819-foot mountain with a straight ascent that does not vary. You’re going to be running up and down all the way, at least until those last 3 miles. Some inclines will be steeper or gentler than others.

That being the case, I would play around with different angles. It sounds like your treadmill has a varied setting, but you can simply manipulate the buttons yourself rather than trust whatever formula the ‘mill is set to follow. At least some of your training should be for a period of 10 or more minutes, angle kept the same. Not too steep. Do not overdo the setting, so you are gasping for breath at the end.

Once a week on the ‘mill should be enough. And are you sure there are no hills where you live, not even if you got in a car and drove to find them. Even flat-as-a-board Jacksonville, where we spend the winter, has bridges over the St. Johns River that runners use for their hill training.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.