Five Dos and Don'ts for Running Hills
Every runner needs to know how to handle hills. And even if you live and race in a world that's completely flat, you can still derive benefit from mastering them.
They provide an alternative to speed work, can help you get a better handle on form, and even give you a chance to build confidence and mental strength.
Don't "Attack" That Hill
As a motivational impulse, you may feel the desire to take the hill head on, and try to will yourself up its slope as fast as is feasible. At the very least, it perhaps makes sense to maintain your speed as you begin the climb.
You may have even heard some advice along these lines. "Attacking" the hill sounds better than letting the hill attack you, after all.
In reality, though, it's better neither to speed up nor to keep the same pace, but rather to focus on keeping a constant amount of effort.
Try to gauge how much energy you're expending on flatter expanses of a run, and then use roughly the same amount of effort to climb the hill.
This almost necessarily means you will slow down some, but it also means that, once you reach the top of the hill, you'll be ready to take on the rest of the run — and not have to slow down from fatigue.
Don't Lean In
Another seemingly commonsense notion may inspire you to lean into the hill. This may also somehow feel right: the momentum of falling forward can feel like it's helping the body 'fall' up the hill.
In reality, though, this posture is depriving you of oxygen, which, given the effort you're expending, is something you want to get as much of as you can.
It also interferes with the necessary movement of your legs.
To correct the posture, stand straight as you go up that hill, leaning only slightly forward at the waist. This will give you an appropriate sense of balance, while maximizing your access to the air supply around you.
Do Keep Your Arms Under Control
While form, of course, is always important, your form will matter more in some ways when you're running up hills.
Keep your arms more or less at 90 degrees to your body, and moving forward and back, not wildly side to side.
Movement up hills needs to be tightly controlled, and in many cases this will start with your arms.
Do Keep Your Knees High
As you start climbing a hill, don't forget to adjust your stride.
Your stride should shorten significantly, and you'll need to bring your knees up high to climb efficiently.
You should also pay attention to your ankles and calves. These will come under more strain, and you can receive a boost by flexing them as you drive off the ground.
As part of these adjustments, it's worth noting that your foot strike will naturally move forward to the mid sole or the front of the foot.
The best way to practice running hills may simply be: to practice running on hills. Make sure to incorporate some into your weekly routine — both as part of longer, slower distance runs and high intensity workouts.
Strength training the core muscles can also help you tackle hills more easily.
Reaping the Benefits
Knowing how to take a hill can provide a big boost of confidence during a race and give you an edge over the competition.
If hills still intimidate you, try to think of each one as a collection of smaller, segmented hills, and then tackle them one by one. And don't forget — even the steepest hills look less intimidating when you view them from the top.