Who gets excited about running up a huge hill?!!! Anyone?!! Hills can seem a little bit scary to run up…especially big ones. Well guess what? There is a way that you can learn to love hill running! Just like anything else, practice makes perfect, and running hills definitely takes practice. Before we get started, lets talk about WHY you should run hills. Training hills will make you a faster and stronger runner. It strengthens the muscles in your legs, quickens your stride, expands your stride length, strengthens your cardiovascular system, and improves your running economy. It can also help protect your leg muscles from getting sore. It does not take long to see improvements from hill training. If you train hills consistently, you can see improvements in your muscle power and speed in as little as six weeks. Running hills actually forces you to run correctly. It forces the muscles in your hips, legs, ankles and feet, to contract simultaneously while supporting your body weight, just like they do in normal running. Pretty cool, huh?! [Source]

The mountain we ran up in the trail run that I did last May...Crazy hill!

The mountain we ran up in the trail run that I did last May…Crazy hill!

Now that we know WHY hill running is so important, lets look at HOW to run up a hill. Don’t let hills scare you. The most important thing to do when you see a big hill coming up, is to focus. Focus mentally as well as physically. Stay strong and don’t let the hill intimidate you…you intimidate that hill! Runners World has awesome tips on what to focus on when you run up a hill. Here they are: [Source]

Going Up
Running hills well is all about rhythm; if you let the hill break up your rhythm you will slow dramatically. But if you make the proper adjustments and maintain your cadence you’ll make molehills out of the mountains. Here’s how:

  • As you start uphill, shorten your stride. Don’t try to maintain the pace you were running on the flat.
  • You are aiming for equal effort going up as well as down, not equal pace. Trying to maintain the pace you were running on the flat will leave you exhausted later in the race or session.
  • Take ‘baby steps’ if necessary and try to keep the same turnover rhythm that you had on the flat ground.
  • Your posture should be upright – don’t lean forward or back – your head, shoulders and back should form a straight line over the feet. Keep your feet low to the ground.
  • If your breathing begins to quicken it means that you’re either going too fast, over-striding or bounding too far off the ground as you run.
  • Use a light, ankle-flicking push-off with each step, not an explosive motion, which will waste energy. If the hill is long or the gradient increases, keep shortening your stride to maintain a smooth and efficient breathing pattern. If the gradient decreases, extend your stride again. Try to maintain the same steady effort and breathing throughout.
  • In a race, or when you’re training on a undulating course, run through the top of the hill. Don’t crest the hill and immediately slow down or pull back on your effort.
  • Accelerate gradually into the downhill.

Here are two hill workouts by Jenny from Runners World. The first workout, the “Green Hill Repeats”, is a workout for beginners. Take this as slow as you need. If this is too easy for you, try the “Red Hill Repeats” workout. Have fun and enjoy runnin!

Green Hill Repeats: These are green because this workout is all about learning how to run hills efficiently, like we did climbing that mountain.

The mission: To learn to run hills efficiently – easy on the way up and faster on the way down, working with the flow of terrain and making friends with hills.

  • Warm up with walking and easy running for 10 minutes.
  • Run 10-15 minutes of hill repeats. It’s best to find a hill or bridge where it takes you at least one minute to run.
  • Rather than trying to conquer the hill by running it hard or trying to maintain a certain pace, run it by effort and keep it at an easy to moderate effort, where you can just hear your breathing (not hard).
  • When you reach the top of the hill you should feel challenged but not spent or winded (or swearing). This is the key, as you’ll be fresh enough to take advantage of the downhill.
  • Run downhill focusing on letting go, opening your stride slightly, striking the ground lightly with your feet just behind your hips (rather than under), and letting the hill pull you down. Again, this shouldn’t be run at a fast speed; be cautious, as downhill running increases the impact forces on the body.
  • Repeat this for 10-15 minutes and cool down running 10 minutes.

Red Hill Repeats: You can pretty much guess why these are called red hills – because that is the zone you’ll be in: hard! This workout is the exact opposite of the green workout, and it simulates an interval workout in that you follow a hard and easy flow and use the hill as a source of resistance to build strength and power.
The Mission: To run hard uphill and recover downhill to build strength and power.

  • Warm up walking, then run easy for 10 minutes.
  • Find a hill (or treadmill) where it takes you 30-60 seconds to run up.
  • Run hard up the hill focusing on keeping your stride short, torso tall, looking to the crest of the hill, and driving those elbows back. This is a dynamic interval in that you’re powering up the hill, so starting with a shorter climb (30 seconds) and less time is best for newbies.
  •  When you reach the top, walk it out to catch your breath and then jog back down and repeat again. Like intervals, the recovery is just as important as the hill climb so make sure to invest in walking to catch your breath. Otherwise you will sacrifice form, defeating the purpose of the workout.
  • Newbies start out with 10-15 minutes of hill repeats (up and down); seasoned hill runners can run longer (20-25 minutes), but keep in mind that less can be more, especially when you’re pushing hard.