Here’s what you need to know about running on hills.
Hills are always a hot discussion point before a race – some of us look forward to the challenge while others fear the uphill struggle. Either way, if you’re entering a race where you know there might be a few ups and downs, then the best thing you can do is prepare.
Training on hills is one of the simplest and most time-efficient ways to improve your running performance. This universally loved or loathed style of training helps build extra strength and power in your legs. Meaning you get to the top of those pesky hills quicker on race day, while also improving your speed on flatter ground.
Like it or not, but just one hill session a week can make a huge difference to how you feel over the last few k’s of your race. There’s not too much choice as to whether it’s going to be a tough training session (it is), but it is up to you whether you want to run your hills on tarmac, grass, trails or sand.
If you’re just getting started with hills, we recommend trying your hand at hill running on the tarmac or grass first. Head to the trails or sand dunes for extra difficulty once you’ve built up a bit of a training base.
We’ve put together some of our favourite hill workouts and some hill running technique tips to inspire you to run up that fear-inducing hill nearby and to get you in the best shape possible before your race.
When we’re tired it’s common for us to become a little lazy and our posture starts to drop. As soon as our posture stoops we also become less efficient runners. This is especially true when running uphill!
A couple of good physical checks you can run to remember to ‘Stay Tall’ are to push your hips forward and to keep your eyes up. Focus your eyes on the peak of the hill and imagine that there’s a string connecting your chest to that peak, pulling you there. With these in mind, you’ll find yourself running up the hill rather than into the hill.
Don’t Forget Your Arms
As distance runners, we know how to use our arms for balance and coordination. Letting your arms stray away from their typical t-rex position can give you all the extra oomph you need on those uphill climbs.
As you’re getting stuck into the hill, pump your arms a little quicker and a little stronger. Keep your shoulders and wrists relaxed as you shove your elbows behind you at waist height. Avoid exerting too much energy on the uphills by keeping the movement fluid and checking in on your breathing.
When you’re running uphill and fatigue is kicking in, it’s common for our cadence to slow. You’ll quickly lose momentum as your legs slow down. What you want to do is the opposite.
Shortening your stride and increase your cadence when going uphill. If you’re able to track your cadence on your watch, aim for a cadence higher than 160. If you like to run tech free, you can distract yourself on the uphill by counting the number of times your left foot hits the ground in 30 seconds. To work out your cadence, double that number (30 seconds x 2 = one minute), then double it again (to account for both feet!). If your cadence is lower than 160, work on shortening your stride and use your arms to power up the hill.
By doing this you’ll maintain momentum and speed…all the way to the top!
How to do it: Find a hill that takes you roughly 60 seconds to run up – you don’t want it to be too steep, but at the same time you still want the workout to be effective. Think about a 5-10% incline.
The workout:4-10 x1min hill efforts. Scale up or down depending on your ability – if you’re just starting out then start with attempting 4 hill efforts. If you’re looking to push yourself then aim to complete 6-10 hill efforts.
The recovery: Walk or easy jog back to the bottom.
How to do it: It might be difficult, but try to find a short loop which includes a combination of flat ground, uphill and downhill stretches
The workout: Set yourself 8 minutes and try to complete as many loops as you can in that time. Focus on increasing your effort on the uphill and trying to cruise the downhills and the flats. Aim for 2 sets of 8 minutes on this loop.
The recovery: 3 minutes easy jogging or walking in between your 8 minute sets. Be sure to focus on reining in your breathing during the recovery period. You don’t want to be going into the next set with jagged breathing.
How to do it: Find a hill that takes you around 90 seconds to run from bottom to top.
The workout: Uphill efforts of 45 seconds, 1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 90 seconds, 1 minute, 45 seconds (you should be aiming to run at a sustainable pace throughout the Pyramid, but try to push the pace on the shorter efforts)
The recovery: walk or jog back down to the bottom
*Always make sure you’re fully warmed up before starting your hill workouts. We suggest 10-15 minutes of slow to steady jogging followed by 4-6 50m strides. Gradually increase your speed to make sure your muscles are activated and your blood is pumping.
We’d always suggest heading outside over using the treadmill but, if you haven’t got the chance, kick up the incline on the treadmill. Hill training is the unsung hero of any training program so it’s important to squeeze it in.
One of the best parts about running uphill is that you’re probably going to get to run downhill at some point too! We like to think of this as speed given to us for free, but it’s important to think about technique on the downhill too.
Running downhill puts more strain on your body than running uphill or on the flat. When heading downhill, keep your eyes forward and don’t look straight down at your feet! Pretend you have a grapefruit between your chin and chest (or actually run with one there if you’re really struggling to keep your head up!).
As usual, you want to strike with your mid-foot, not your heels, when you land. Lean forward slightly as you embrace the downhill and let gravity carry you down.
Be sure that your knees are slightly bent when you land too. You don’t want your knees to take all the impact forces when you land, so having a slightly bent knee will force your muscles to work.
Just one hill session per week will make a huge difference to your running form and endurance. It’ll give you all the confidence to tackle some of Perth’s toughest climbs on Sunday 25 August.
Want to see how your emerging hill skills stack up against others? Sign up for the Chevron City to Surf for Activ today.