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.