Running up some hills may feel like that dream where you keep running but don’t get anywhere.
Yes, running on hilly terrain can be tough, but there is a way to not only become better at running hills, but to learn how to conquer hills.
While it’s important to include hills in your training for their benefits of increasing strength and efficiency, it’s especially important to train for them when your upcoming race is hilly or rolling.
Running hills isn’t only about pushing hard to get to the top. Whether on your training runs or during a race, you want to be able to get up and over hills without it making you so tired that you need to slow down for the rest of your run or race. In order to do this, you need to train for the course you’ll be racing on and have a race plan on how to approach those hills.
How To Train
The first thing you may think of to improve on a hilly course is to run more hills. While you shouldn’t shy away from hills while out running, not every run needs to be hilly either. Once a week, run one workout that’s focused on strength and hills, such as hill repeats. The rest of the week should be focused on improving other aspects of your running.
You should also include strength training into your routine two to three times per week to help you get strong on the hills. While some runners may prefer to forgo strength training and focus only on getting in the mileage, it’s important for several reasons to include strength in your training.
Besides the obvious reason of increasing strength, it also improves fatigue resistance, power, and running economy. All of these translate directly to better hill running.
Speed work is also something that will help you improve. While it may not appear that running around a flat oval at fast speeds would help you get over a long steep hill, it actually does. Speed work helps you improve your mechanical efficiency, speed endurance, and VO2 Max. Improving in these areas will help you get over the hills quicker. Because, let’s face it, who would actually want to drag out the torture of a long hill?
Don’t neglect the mental aspect of training. Visualization is an extremely strong tool that you can bring to your training. Use it to see yourself training and racing successfully.
Positive self talk is also very important. Henry Ford had it right when he said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” The mind and body are connected and higher confidence levels lead to better performance. So you could be a well trained athlete, but if you lack confidence and tell yourself you not good at something, then you will fall short of all that you are capable of.
Living in a Flat Area
If you live in a very flat area, such as Florida, all is not lost. There are still ways you can incorporate hills into your workouts.
The first way is doing some of your runs on a treadmill. Doing a hill workout on a treadmill can almost be better than doing it out on the roads. You’ll be able to precisely do what the workout calls for, 1/2 mile hill repeats for instance, which may be more difficult to find outdoors.
If you don’t have access to a treadmill, or are looking to add some to your outdoor run, then you can include bridges and causeways into your route. Just be sure that you can run over them safely by sticking to sidewalks or paths.
If you live in a coastal community by the ocean, beach running is an excellent way to replace the hills you don’t have. It may not be an exact replica, but it’s a great alternative that gets you working on strength.
Just like running on the flats, you want to run with good form so that you don’t waste more energy than you need to. Try your best to maintain your normal form when running uphill with these tips:
- Stand tall. Don’t bend over at the waist.
- Lean into the hill while keeping good form. Don’t lean forward too much; how much you lean into the hill will depend on how steep the hill is.
- Do not look down at your feet or all the way up the hill; look just enough ahead of you to keep good form.
- Do not overstride. Your stride will naturally shorten, which is a good thing. Taking long strides uphill will slow you down.
- Stay relaxed; make sure you’re not tense in your upper body.
Running downhill is the reward for that uphill you just ran. You can gain a lot of speed to make up for the work you just did, but you need to be smart about it. Approach the downhill like a smooth ninja, not a kamikaze barreling down towards a target.
- Have confidence and stay relaxed.
- Think “quick feet”. Take advantage of the free added speed from gravity and quicken your stride.
- Keep your body in a neutral position.
- For more advanced hill runners, consider leaning down the hill to gain speed.
- Leaning back will slow you down. This can be helpful when controlling your speed on steep descents but use caution that you don’t lean back too much. Leaning back and “braking” while going down a hill will put more strain on your joints from the impact of going down.
- Stay in control. If your speed from a steep downhill is getting away from you, decrease your cadence, shorten your stride, and lean back a little. Running with your elbows out a bit will also help with your balance, especially when running a technical trail.
Racing a Hilly Course
Training to become stronger and faster on hills is only part of the equation. While you do need to train to race well over a hilly course, following a race plan is just as important.
- Focus on effort, not pace. This means you’ll go slower on the uphills and faster on the downhills.
- Don’t slow down when you get to the top of a hill. Continue the same effort as you crest the hill.
- Pay attention to your fatigue level. Pushing too much, too early on a hilly course will lead to even more fatigue later on.
Unfortunately, hills never get easier. But with training, technique, and a smart race plan, you will become stronger and better at running them.
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