I’m a huge believer in taking into account all elements that might affect your running performance, evaluating it from every angle, not all at once, of course, but I think it’s important to realize that adequate sleep is just as important as the right shoe, and speed work is just as important as the appropriate total mileage. Running drills have a unique effect that you don’t get with any other element of training. Plus, they are great fun. [Read more…]
Do you avoid races with hills? If you do, you are not alone. Many runners despise hills. Are you one of those runners? If so, it is probably because you try to run uphill and downhill much the same way you run on flat land. If you do, then you probably dread every hill in your path, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Worry no more! Like so many other things in life, you need a strategy, a technique, and once you master the technique, you will seek out races with hills because you will have an advantage over all the runners who have not yet mastered that technique.
Once you know what you’re doing, you will embrace hills. Really!
As you might expect, one of the most important ways to ensure a good performance in a race with hills is to go into that race prepared by plenty of hill training. It’s a good idea to run hills once a week, in fact, even just as a standard matter of practice to improve your training. Hill training is guaranteed to improve your running fitness and racing performance.
The basics of hill running technique:
Let your arms flail a bit. Ever watch Nick Wallenda when he takes to the high wire? Did you watch with all of America as he Niagara Falls? Notice the long pole he carries? That’s not just for looks. Whenever he starts to lean to one direction, did you ever notice that the pole goes the other way to offset it?
I suspect most of us could walk on a tight rope if the pole was long enough. Of course, I said ‘could,’ not ‘would.’ The point is that it’s the pole that makes it possible. Well, for runners, running hills, the challenge isn’t nearly as great, but we still benefit from having a pole. Our pole, though, is our arms. That’s right. When running hills, let your arms flail a bit. In this way your arms will give you balance, and more balance is needed as you run up and downhill. Your running will be more stable if your arms are loose and float as needed.
That’s pretty self-explanatory. Shorten your steps, considerably, and then each one will be easier as you’re biting off smaller pieces of the hill with each step. This will allow you to maintain the same – or nearly – the same speed as on flat ground.
Lean into the hill. Lean in from your ankles not your waist. Your whole body must lean into the hills.
When running downhill:
1. Let your arms go to help with balance.
2. Let your strides get a little longer than normal, but don’t get carried away.
3. Avoid letting your feet slap to the ground. That can cause severe shin splints that could put an end to your race, or at the very least, make it uncomfortable.
4. Maintain control, but use gravity to increase the pace.
5. Strengthen your legs and core to help prepare your legs for the downhill. Downhills offer a prime opportunity for injury.
6. Make sure your legs and ankles are properly prepared by practicing static stretching (after running) on a regular basis, at least several times per week. Also, always practice dynamic stretching before your run.
That’s it. After you have worked on perfecting your hill running technique, you’ll have a whole different attitude. Next time you are on a hill, it’s likely that no one will pass you on the way up, and you’ll pick off your competition on the way down.
Here is an idea that will help with motivation when you’re tackling a hill on a race: Look at it like a challenge. Look at it as an opportunity for you to gain on weaker runners.
Of course, you’ll need to master running downhill as well. I know, you’re think that’s easy, but you really do need to learn proper downhill technique to really make hills work for you.
Here is one final mental tip: As you run uphill, count the number of runners that pass you, if any do. Then, on the way down, count how many you pass. If you pass more people than pass you, you’ve learned to finesse the hills. Then, every time you run in a race with hills, try to do better than the time before.
With good uphill technique, you’ll at least be able to hold your own, but more than likely, you’ll pick up a few places. After all, a good percentage of people will walk at least part way up. You’ll gain a lot on them, but if you can maintain close to the pace you had going into the hill, which you definitely can if you practice the technique I wrote about in this post about uphill running technique, then with good downhill technique, you will pass lots of people, and I mean lots.
And keep in mind that the muscles you’ll use to run downhill are different, meaning hills will provide time for some of your muscles to rest, even if you don’t notice it at the time.
I would say the downhill is your very best option for maximizing technique and seizing the opportunity to move up.
Of course, the secret is not to overdo it. You don’t want to work the hills so hard that your legs are shredded for the rest of the race. Believe me, I have done that, but on the other hand, most people just go back to their regular pace on the downhill.
What a waste! Most people just think the downhill is easy, and as such, makes up for the difficulty of the uphill.
That’s the wrong way to think about it, for two reasons:
- One, you want to think of how you can take advantage of gravity.
- Another very important factor is that running downhill can really do a number on your body. Do it wrong, and you won’t be able to walk the next day. You’ll be in a lot of pain, but much worse is that you could have an injury.
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
- As with the uphill, continue to let your arms flail a bit. This will give you additional balance, which will allow you to go faster and still maintain control. You won’t need to worry about pumping your arms as you do with running uphill. On the downhill, you’re just using them to maintain balance with your faster speed.
- Lean forward, slightly, just as you always do. The idea is to keep your body perpendicular to the road. You may feel an urge to lean back, but that will always slow you down.
- Be sure to hold your head high and keep your eyes focused ahead just as you do when running on flat ground, but still make sure to keep your body over your center of gravity. Don’t let your feet get out in front of you.
- Increase your leg-turnover. This is possible because you are aided by gravity.
- Maintain control. Don’t land hard. Don’t pound, and don’t let your lower legs do the work. Your goal is to be light on your feet, as you should be striving for all the time. Don’t let your shins and ankles and knees become shock absorbers! Use your core muscles and run as if the ground was hot. A great drill for this is to practice running downhill so lightly that you can’t hear your feet hit the ground. Visualize your legs moving in a circular pattern as if you were riding a bike.
And that’s it, except one more thing: Practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve mastered this and uphill technique, you’ll be excited about any race with hills because you’ll have an edge over most of the runners.