If you’re looking to improve your ability to tackle hills on race day, then incorporating rolling hills into your threshold and long runs is the best solution. This is how most elite training groups handle races contested over difficult courses. Case in point, in 2008, the Hansons-Brooks marathon training group did all of their workouts on a hilly out-an-back loop to simulate the rolling hills they would face at the Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City. That plan worked out great for eventual Olympian Brian Sell, who finished third that day and punched his ticket to Beijing.
Incorporating rolling hills into your runs provides your muscles and physiological systems the specific stimulus that it will face on race day — improving form over longer and more gradual hills and maintaining pace up and over the hill.
Furthermore, throwing some hills into your road runs teaches you how to pace yourself up and over hills so you can keep the effort within your target pace range during the race. Many runners attack hills too hard during a race, and as a consequence they go anaerobic and have to slow down considerably once the hill is over. The appropriate way to approach hills during a race is to maintain the same effort up and down, which will even out the pace over the long run. By practicing this tactic in training, you can become an expert at it on race day and save yourself from exerting too much energy.
Finally, rolling hills are a great way to prepare for a hilly race because they don’t require a change to your normal training routine. You can still execute all the threshold and long runs you need, but by changing your route to include a few hills, you’ll be specifically preparing yourself to handle the hills on race day.
When you’re putting together your training plan to prepare for a hilly race course, consider adding rolling hills to your long runs and threshold workouts to prepare for the specific demands you’ll face on race day.