Hate Hills?

Hate Hills?

When I first started running, I didn’t like running uphill. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone because running hills is hard. It makes your legs and lungs burn. You want to stop before the hill begins or find another route without a hill. As I’ve continued to run, becoming stronger in the process, I’ve also learned to love running hills, both up and down.

They have become a welcome challenge. When I learned the value of hill training, my perspective on running hills shifted. If you’ve been running long enough, you know running down hill can be just as hard as going up. Training schedules should include a run focused on hill running (up and down) at least every other week.

Unless you only run on a treadmill or a track you’re going to come upon a hill. It’s best if you can foster a good relationship with hills. Even if you’re the kind of runner who only chooses to run routes and races where there are the least number of hills and the smallest of hills, you should find some hills to run.

Uphill running improves your form by increasing your knee lift, joint mobility and neuromuscular communication. Hills also improve your leg strength and your cardiovascular fitness. When you’re running uphill, keep your head held high and looking forward. This will help keep your hips, knees and ankles aligned. Your stride length should automatically shorten because the ground comes up to meet your foot sooner than on a level surface. Running uphill is a good time to really become aware of your body and where it is in relationship to your surroundings.

As you climb, don’t lean forward at the waist into the hill because it engages the quads and calves more than necessary and leaves the glutes and hamstrings out of the work. This may not sound too bad in a short race, but in a longer race with lots of downhill running you’re going to wish you had relied on your glutes and hamstrings for more of the climbs. A runner’s forward lean on any grade comes from the ankles not the waist.

Downhill running improves your foot speed/cadence, your range of motion and reduces your risk of injuries. Running downhill efficiently requires mindfulness and a little bravery. It’s important to maintain control as you’re speed increases. You want to keep your stride length short and your leg turnover (foot cadence) fast. Try not to dump your hips forward or lean back, which causes a breaking action. On a mild to moderate hill, try to maintain your form as if you were on flat ground. As the descent becomes more intense, you’re going to have to find a happy balance between leaning forward and breaking based on your own experience.

Hills are not only physically challenging, but psychologically challenging too. In fact, I think it’s the psychological component that really messes with us. When you’re out for your next easy run, take some time and think of a mantra you can use as you approach a hill. You can also imagine yourself conquering hills and then use that while you’re pushing up your next hill. If that’s all to new age or complicated, just think of a word you can say to yourself as you climb such as “Powerful,” or “Strong.” You can use the same word or come up with something different for your downhills.

As an ultrarunner, uphills usually translate into power hiking during races and even longer runs because it is more energy efficient to hike than try to power up at a run. However, don’t think that means you get to skip hill training. All the benefits above apply to you as well. There is a lot that goes into deciding which hills to run and which to power hike. It’s going to depend on the distance of the race/run, grade of the hill, and the length of the hill. Your physical condition will also play a role. The longer the race, the more power hiking you’re going to be doing. The steeper or longer the hill, the more likely it is you will be hiking (more on this in the next post).

A few quick exercises you can add to the end of your easy runs to help you up the hills. Do four sets each:

Foot slaps: stand with your feet hip-width apart, rock onto your heels to lift your forefoot high and then slam them to the ground. Do repetitions of twenty and increase to fifty.

Quadruped Hip Circles: Get down on all fours, extend your left leg behind you, bend it to circle to the side and forward, then straighten it back out. Do 4 reps and then change directions then do your right leg.

Reverse Sliding Lunge:With a towel beneath your left foot and your weight on your right leg, slide your left foot back into a lunge. Push through your right heel to stand. Do 10-12 reps per side.

High Step: Plant your right foot on a tall bench, so your right knee is higher than your hip. Press through your right heel until your right leg is straight. Lower back down and repeat 5-10 reps per side.

Remember: Every hill you conquer makes the next one easier, both physically and mentally.

Release the Beast and Tear up the Hills

running hills

I hear it all the time, “I hate running uphill. It’s so hard. I feel like I’m going to diel, so how do I get better at running hills?”

Simple, run more hills.

Run all types of hills. Short and steep, rolling hills, and long gradual climbs. They each have their benefits.

Short steep hills build explosive power and strength as well as cardiovascular fitness. Find a hill that you can run up in 10-15 seconds with a grade of 7-10%. Between each repeat take a full 2-3 minute recovery before you go again. Repeat them 10-12 times.

Rolling hills teaches you to maintain your pace and form when going up and over a hill. You want to maintain the same effort on the up and on the down. This means your pace on the up will be slower than on the down, but it evens out over the entire hill. This strategy also reduces the possibility that you will bonk before the end of the run/race.

Long gradual climbs of a mile to a mile and a half builds endurance and mental strength. All runners know staring down a giant hill at mile 20 or 22 can be a huge mental challenge. Training to get up and over these giants will build your endurance and confidence.

You can also increase your ability to run uphill by making sure that you hold the proper form. Running uphill requires you to fight against gravity. The slope also causes you to land on your mid-foot and forefoot more. Your calves and ankles are under more pressure to propel you up the hill. The mistake many runners make when going uphill is too much forward lean from the waist this limits the power you will get out of your hips and knees. You can see this if you stand up and raise your leg standing straight and bent forward at the waist. Focus on standing tall and driving up the hill with your hips.

What about strength training and plyometrics, will those help? They will help, but nothing beats the actual running of hills for training benefits. Squats, jump squats, hamstring curls, and lunges both with and without jumping are all good ways to increase the strength of your legs for climbing hills.

How often should I be running the F***ing hills? It depends on your experience, if you have never run hills add in a hill training once every ten days. Monitor how you feel afterward and your recovery time. If you are recovering quickly and not sore more than a day or two, add a hill work out into each week. Experienced runners who have completed many marathons and have been training for more than two years and are not injury prone, can add in two hill training sessions a week. Elite athletes are running three or four hill training sessions a week, but they also train twice a day, morning and afternoon.