- Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
Crave them or dread them, hills come with the territory whether you’re training for the Austin Marathon or a century bicycle ride through the Hill Country.
“Living in Austin, you’ve got to embrace the hills,” says Gilbert Tuhabonye, the drum-beating, “Run with joy!” shouting founder and head coach of the Gilbert’s Gazelles running group, which staged a sweat-inducing workout on steep, twisting slope of Harbor View Drive in West Lake Hills recently.
To get the most out of hill training, whether you’re running or cycling, start with short hills, then build up to longer, more intimidating ones. And mix up your workout. Running up hills boosts hamstring strength, and running down them strengthens the quads. So does running the steepest stretches backward.
“The whole idea is to build the muscle around the legs,” Tuhabonye says. “It’s the best way to get stronger. If you run fast on hills, when you go run on track or flat road you’ll be flying.”
That’s why every year on his birthday, Tuhabonye, 43, does hill repeats on Wilke Drive in Barton Hills, looping up and down the pitch once for every year he’s been alive.
“I feel every piece of my body afterward,” he says. “That’s what’s beautiful about running hills — it’s back, quads, glutes and hamstrings. It’s everything. That’s why I love it, and that’s what I try to teach the runners.”
That love of hills, though? It’s an acquired taste, despite Tuhabonye’s endorsement.
“People who have seen the benefit, they get excited when they see hills on the schedule. They’ll show up. But some people — 1 percent maybe — don’t like them,” he says. “They don’t like Wilke especially, because it’s hard.”
Don’t tell Tuhabonye, but we think that disapproval rating might actually skew a tad higher.
10 hills to train on in Austin
1. Far West area: I’ve seen runners weep at the mere mention of Ladera Norte, a hill so steep that I have to zigzag to get up it on my bicycle without tipping over. Note the cement slops on the edge of the road, which connects Valburn Drive to Far West Boulevard, as you creep up. That means cement spilled out the back of a cement truck — the sign of a very steep incline. For added torture, detour onto Smokey Valley. And when you do, look at the driveways. How can cars even get in and out of them? Ladera Norte runs from Valburn Drive to Far West Boulevard, and it’s a hill the entire way, as is Smokey Valley, which intersects with Ladera Norte halfway down.
2. River Place area: Take your pick of hills in the River Place neighborhood of Northwest Austin. We’re partial to Big View Drive. From the top, you can see all the way to Lake Austin. This 3.5-mile stretch of road takes you past River Place Nature Trail, where you’ll find a nice steep trail loop perfect for honing your trail running chops. Big View dead-ends at a cul-de-sac among million-dollar houses a mile later. Or opt for River Place Drive, which sweeps up and down hills and passes the trailhead at the other end of the River Place Nature Trail.
3. Jester Boulevard: Cyclists (and runners) with fortitude make laps up Jester Boulevard and circle back on Beauford Drive, where you’ll take in some fine views before coiling all the way down to Lakewood and Capitol of Texas Highway. Jester Boulevard itself once set the scene for King of Jester, an annual bike time trial and 5K run.
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4. Mount Bonnell: From 35th Street, head south past the water treatment plant toward Laguna Gloria. About the time you spot a small flock of peacocks, hang a right onto Mount Bonnell Drive. From there, you’ll go up, up, up to the foot of the stone staircase at Mount Bonnell Park. If you’re feeling feisty, dash up those 100-plus steps, take in the view, and dash back down. You’re not done. Continue your circuit by turning right onto Mount Bonnell Road (not Drive) and follow it down to Balcones Drive. The loop is about 2.5 miles total, including the sprint up the steps for that awesome view of Lake Austin.
5. West Courtyard Drive: The road — and the hill — goes on forever on West Courtyard Drive, which sweeps up from Capitol of Texas Highway to City Park Road. Parts feature a bike lane on one side and a sidewalk on the other. Midway, you get a breather at Shepherd Mountain. You know it’s steep by the cement sloshes on the side. No speeding, please. Five sets of road humps make sure of that.
6. West Lake area: As you start up the hill on Harbor View Drive, you see the sign: “Danger, one lane road. 10 mph.” You persist, and pass a couple of red Ferraris parked in front of one house. Step with caution: The road has no curbs and drops off into a drainage gully on the side. You’ll be running through a thicket of ash juniper, so beware if you have cedar fever.
7. Barton Hills area: Park in the lot on the backside of Barton Springs Pool and head up the long gradual grind of Barton Hills Drive. Now hang a left onto Wilke Drive for some real punishment. Lots of running groups use Wilke for regular hill training sessions. It’s short, it’s steep, it’s brutal. For extra pain, turn this into a loop by incorporating Lund Street, directly behind Barton Springs, which curves into Dexter Street and will make you want to cry by the time you get to Rabb Road. As one reader said, ‘Tough sledding, either way.”
8. Pease Park area: If you’re looking for something short and sweet, try Rainbow Bend, which connects Pease Park on one end and Windsor Road on the other. For maximum value, do it a bunch of times.
9. Barton Creek greenbelt: Want to get off paved road and tackle some quad-scorching trail? Head to the Hill of Life near the Camp Craft Road entrance to the Barton Creek greenbelt, where you have to pay attention as you scramble up and down a trail that alternates between stretches of loose, skittery scree and big, knee-skinning limestone ledges. In all, it covers something like 300 feet in less than half a mile. Mercy!
10. St. Edward’s Park: Find more off-road, quad-busting terrain at this Northwest Austin park at 7301 Spicewood Springs Road. From the main parking lot, veer right, cross the creek and follow the Hill Trail up the rocky slope. You’ll tackle 150 feet of elevation gain by the time you reach the highest point of this 80-acre park.