Hill Running

The dreaded hills. When you are doing them you may think: “why am I doing this to myself?” However, after the workout you feel great and are happy you completed that tough, yet rewarding hill workout. In the end, you benefited from that sweat session, if not more than your typical run.

Running hills is an important component of any kind of race training; it builds strength in your legs and helps build endurance. This is because running up inclines forces your muscles to work harder with every step you take. As your legs become stronger, you will improve your stride, become a more efficient runner, and also improve in speed.

Because I am running the Boston marathon in less than 2 months (ahhhh so excited!), I have been focusing on adding hill training into my marathon running plan. The Boston marathon course runs from Hopkinton to Boston in a point-to-point route.

The route starts out at an initial elevation of 472 feet, and is essentially a downhill race for the first 6 miles. Runners have to resist the temptation to speed up down the hills to save time for later in the race, but also avoid braking and expending energy by shortening strides.

By the 7th mile the route is flat, but not for long. This race is full of grade changes, but they can help you if you are smart about the race! This is because runners can use different muscles, letting those tired muscles get a break for a stretch of time. Instead of focusing on even splits, it is best to focus on even effort and heart rate for this race in particular, (but is not needed for all).

At mile 15, when you are “in the groove,” the first of the horrible hills start.  From about mile 17 to 21, the hills keep coming. Two long hills until the one and only, “Heart Break Hill” to finish up the sequence. When it gets hard, you push harder. Giving it full effort till the top, after all, this is The Boston Marathon!

From the 22nd mile on, it’s all downhill from there! But don’t lose your good form here, the downhill is just as important as running uphill!

**Since I’ve been focusing on hills and it’s never a bad thing to research and learn more about perfecting your form, I put together some tips to better your running form when climbing hills. Completing hill workouts will boost your overall fitness, remember when training to:

Start Out Easy: Jog a mile or two as a warm up, followed by stretches.

Aim for once a week: Schedule a hill run every week if possible. As you get stronger, add time or miles to your training. Your workouts should mimic the types of hills you’ll encounter in your upcoming race.

Run hills with a buddy: when your motivation is low, ask a friend to join you! Take turns charging up the hill and chasing after each other.

Maintain Good Form: As you climb a hill, shorten your stride with your feet close to the ground. Keep your head, chest, and hips perpendicular to the road. When running down a hill, take short, but quick steps and maintain your center of gravity over your legs.

Proper form on the smallest of hills can make a huge difference!

  • You will reduce the shear force your body absorbs with each stride, making your body less injury prone.
  • You will become more efficient and use less energy. (Who doesn’t want that?)

**When powering up the hills remember: eyes up, stand up tall, and keep those arms strong and fast! Maintaining good form will help you become a stronger and more efficient runner. With the right body mechanics you can make up a lot of time without expending more energy!

On the Uphill:

  • Eyes Up –  Keep your eyes on the top of the hill. Looking down at the ground brings your shoulders and torso downward , which essentially stops all forward motion.
  • Stand Up Tall – Don’t bend over, if you do hunch over while running uphill, you shift your center of gravity over your feet. This also brings an overload of pressure on your shins, Achilles and calves.
    • Stand up straight with a natural lean forward as you power up the hill. This slight lean (and your eyes up) will keep your momentum going forward.
  • Strong, Fast Arms –  The harder you pump your arms, the higher you will lift your knees.  Try to avoid crossing your arms over your torso; if your arms cross, your legs will follow.  Remember: drive those arms back to bring up your knees when your legs are feeling tired in a race!

 The downhill is equally important!

  • Eyes Up – Try to keep you eyes forward and slightly above the bottom of the hill.
  • Stand Up Tall –  When running downhill, the tendency is to sit back on our heels. This braking motion causes you to slow down, while also increasing the amount of force your body will absorb; puts your center of mass behind your heels, causing your heel to drive straight down and your forefoot to slam forward.
    • Leaning forward from the hips and keeping your center of mass directly over the forefoot will help with this.
    •  Shorten and quicken your stride to stay in control while running downhill.
  • Strong, Fast Arms – Your arms play a huge role on your control and speed on the down hill. Use your arms to help with balance on the downhill: Pump those arms and keep them close by your sides!

Hill workouts to try:

  •  do a 1-2 mile warmup and 1-2 mile cool down for each of the following workouts:
    • run up the hill (200-400m) at Tempo Pace, jog back down the hill as an “Active Recovery” back to bottom do this 10- 12 times
    • Run 800 meters (half a mile) at Tempo pace. Do 5-6 times, with 1-2 min recovery in between.
    • Sprint up 100m hill and use the jog down as an active recovery (aim for 10 times)!
    • run up the hill 4-8 times for 30 seconds with a 2-3 minutes rest, as you progress try:4-8 × 60 seconds, 3-4 minutes rest and 4-6 × 90 seconds, 4-5 minutes rest

Happy Running!! XOXO, Addie

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