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Benita Willis, Hills

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Benita Willis and her special hill session


Benita Willis is the only Australian to ever win the world cross country title, claiming the 8km event in Brussels in 2004. She holds the national 2km, 3km, 5km and 10km records and in 2006 broke Lisa Ondieki’s marathon record when she clocked 2:22.36 in Chicago. Running hills has always been her strength and for iRun, she reveals her favourite session. 

Benita’s hill session

3 sets of

3min at 10km race pace with a jog recovery back down in about 4min30sec.

1min at 1500m/5km race pace with a jog back of approx. 2mins.

There is no break at the bottom. 

The background

The session was devised for Benita by her coach Nic Bideau in 2003 after consultation with British coach Alan Storey (Sonia O’Sullivan and Mo Farah’s coach). She started doing the session at Richmond Park in London, often with Craig Mottram, and it became a regular session whether she was training overseas or in Australia. She recommends Fawkner Park in Melbourne or Centennial Park in Sydney. Even better if you can find a suitable grass venue. 

Benita says

“I think hills are really important for strength, they are even better than going to the gym and doing squats or biometrics and they work your glutes more. With the 3-minute rep, remember not to start to fast as you don’t want to blow up and ideally choose a hill with a gradual incline, not a severe start. It’s really important to drive your arms to get your legs turning over.  It’s a great way to develop mental strength by training yourself to push yourself when you are a bit tired. I actually think the chance of injury is less running uphill than a track session. I found the session was great for 5/10km and half racing, but not really long enough for the marathon.” 

Benita’s warning:

“Hills are taxing on the body and if you already have a few niggles, then you have to be careful. I recommend that you only do them for a 2-3 week block three or four times a year.” 


The day her training paid off

“A hilly, muddy course was always the best conditions for me and that’s what we got in Brussels (in 2004). That course had a really big hill of about 400m or so at the start of each lap. There were a lot of runners with faster times than me on the flat that day, but when we got to the hill on that fourth lap I went for it and made the key break."  

Tip for beginners

“If you are only just getting started in running, then I recommend you choose a less daunting hill and just walk back down the hill as part of your recovery.” 

What Benita is up to now

Benita retired from racing after the London Olympics, but she still runs about five days a week. She lives in Brisbane and currently runs an online coaching business and is about to start a business encompassing running/ fitness groups for all levels, motivational talks, corporate wellness programs and more (called "B Plus Fitness").

You can contact her via email: benitawillis79@yahoo.com