Running hills (ascending or descending) undoubtedly has a vast amount of performance benefits, but comes at a cost – they’re tough on your body and mind. In this feature we’ll cover important tips which you take use on how to master a hill for runner…
Running a hill means your body needs to use more power and even a wider range of muscles to achieve the simple task of moving forward at a decent pace. Not only do you use a lot more energy to cover a given distance, but your stride is effected, and the shorter tougher stride (on an incline) obviously translates into more effort for less distance travelled at a likely slower pace.
Before attacking any hills, ensure you warm-up properly. Your hamstrings, Achilles tendon, calves, and other major muscle groups used are going to need it!
There are a few great tips to start conquering hills, but none more important than conditioning yourself through regular drills up and down hills. Adding hill work in your training two to three times a week is perfect.
Attacking various hills with varying degrees of difficulty will allow you to keep things fresh and unpredictable for your body. If you don’t have any hills in your area, find a place close-by which has stairs or ramps, like a stadium, and do various drills there.
Run in groups. Get slower runners to set off first and let the faster groups try catch them before the top/bottom of the hill. This is a great way to give a healthy competitive structure to your training and let’s face it, nobody likes to be passed on a run, so it pushes every “group” to work a little harder.
Keep your hill drills varied. You don’t only need to do long slow hills to achieve your goals here. Find short hills to do hard, fast sprints in various intervals. HIIT training will push your nervous system to the max and the befit to longer slower runs will be quickly evident.
Use your whole body to generate more power and to keep better consistency throughout the hill. Exaggerate your arm-swing in terms of power to generate more momentum, keep your torso upright and force your hips forward to make full use of your hip flexors, keep your knees high to maintain your stride length, and stay on your toes and use your natural spring while avoiding heel striking which will slow you down and make the run harder. On downhill’s avoid leaning backwards and again keep proper form throughout, as all of the same tips would apply on a downhill too – use a downhill as a recovery portion of your run, but maintain that good form!
Mental toughness is also key. Probably the most important tip here is to tell yourself not to stop – even if you’re moving slowly, just keep moving. If you need to slow down, try not walking and just slow down your running/jogging speed, but if you desperately need to “stop”, just keep moving by walking but only for short periods – this is also key in terms of lactate build-up.
Another point here is that you should not look at the whole hill, but rather break it down into segments and focus on reaching benchmarks – this will help you to get through it a lot easier. Keeping mentally focussed will also allow you to better control your breathing which is key – read this great article on breathing tips for runners.