How and Why Running Hills Makes Us Better Runners

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This weekend, not unlike any other, was full of climbing hills. The next race I am preparing for is a 25K with over 4,000 feet of elevation. Hills are something I need to get better at, but it doesn’t seem possible when I am mid climb gasping for my breath. If you are anything like me, you know you need to start running those hills to get faster, but as soon as you see that incline coming, you automatically slow down into your power hike pace. After struggling up the side of a mountain on Sunday, I decided that once and for all, I need to figure out some training plans for getting better at adding hill work to my weekly mileage. And actually running them. What I found was different kinds of hill training for different kinds of results. It is important to pay attention to your form while tackling the hills, both on the way up and on the way down.

Form Matters

You should lean forward, from the ankles, not the hips. Make sure you are not bending over like you would if you were trying to tie your shoes! This will help with shortening your strides and raising knees high. You should take short fast steps instead of long power leaps. This is a huge mistake for me! I always thought if I could take big steps, I would get to the top sooner…not true!

Once you make it to the top, you have to a be aware of how your form is effecting your downhill. I struggle with the up more than the down, but I know people that struggle with the downhills too. On the way down, you should have a slight forward lean, and again, make sure your stride doesn’t get too long. If you lean back, you will feel the pressure on your knees. Don’t fight gravity; use it to your advantage and learn how to fly on those downhills. Light footed and fancy free! 🙂

I found there are many ways to get hills into your workout, and you may already have the opportunity, you just walk it (like me) instead of learning the proper way to power through and run that puppy. Below are some easy ways to get hill workouts in your weekly runs.

Long runs

The first way is during your long run; make sure you are hitting terrain with hills incorporated. If you trail run, this is almost always possible. I find it difficult to map a long run on the trails without hills! Your effort on the hill should feel the same as flat, so your pace will slow, but not to a walk. 🙂 The idea is to maintain your energy over a long period of time. By incorporating hills in our long run, you can figure out your energy output and when you need to fuel to avoid the daunting bonk! Check out my list of favorite trail running goodies here.

Long Hill Repeats

Another workout is to do long hill repeats. This assists with building a good muscle base, think strength training at it’s best. Pick hills that take approximately 2-3 minutes to reach the top at a moderate effort. Do 6 -8 reps with complete recovery between each one. Again, focus on high knees and shorter strides. Building strength is the name of the game here.

Hill Sprints

Last, but not least, are hill sprints. The idea behind hill sprints is speed and power. These hills should not take longer than 60 seconds at race pace (or faster) to reach the top. Take a solid 2 minute recovery between reps and try to complete 8 – 10 repeats. You may need to work up to that many. Do what you can to start, and be sure to watch your form and rest between.

Remember, I am not a professional! I am just someone that loves running and seeks out ways to get better. Do you have favorite hill workouts? Please share in the comments below.

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