Running Hills: Benefits, Strategies, Tips, And Racing Hills

Finding the motivation to go for a run is sometimes an uphill climb in itself. Then throw a monster of an incline into the mix on a route and the runner immediately notices their feet slow to a shuffle and their heart rate increase as it is going to burst right out of their chest. The higher we get, the more we feel like we are being weighed down. It’s almost as if the hill wants us to fail—to just give up and walk. Or worse, avoid it all together and stick to the flat courses. But running hills is important. There are many benefits of running hills and lots of tips and tricks to getting over that hill in your run.

Benefits of Running Hills

There are many benefits of running hills. These include building endurance, increases strength, improves form and boosts speed and power. Think of running hills as resistance training since the quads, calves, hamstrings, and glutes are working more than if the runner was on flat ground. Hills make the body stronger.

It also toughens the mind, too. It takes endurance and stamina to make it along rolling hills or a few big ones. But it takes mental grit to be able to keep pushing through. And the reward pays off when competing in a long distance race, hills or not. Knowing a runner can tackle that hill is a metaphor for training and getting through tough runs in general.

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash.

Running hills also makes a better runner. It’s impossible to always run on flat ground, and we should want to be a well-rounded runner who can take on any terrain. The best benefit of running hills, especially hill repeats, is the increase in speed the runner gains. Hill repeats are running up a hill as fast as one can and the recovering downhill then repeating this a few times.

Other benefits include preventing injuries like shin splints since there is less pressure on the shinbones when going uphill. Not to mention running hills means the runner burns more calories. This is a great incentive for those looking to lose weight by running.

How To Run Hills

Running with full intensity for 10 seconds at a time while running uphill results in faster speed and endurance. Going uphill means the runner has better form since they are forced to be on the balls of the feet and not heel strike. But the runner should pay attention to proper form when running uphill.

Start by focusing on where the eyes graze. Don’t look down. Look about 30 meters in front. This helps to make sure oxygen is begin inhaled to prevent cramping or getting out of breath. It also makes the body stand up straight. Pump the arms and lean forward. Run leaning with the hips as if someone was pulling a rope that is tied around the waist. Make sure the chest is sticking out and open.

Beginners should not focus on speed and just worry about climbing the hill. Do not look at pace. Instead, pay attention to the effort. Engage the core and lift each knee off the hill, not into it. A good strategy is to start on a flat ground and build the run up to race pace or the normal average pace of a run. Keep that pace even when approaching the hill. It’s natural that the pace slows, but push on ahead, focusing on keeping the same effort. Then get ready for the downhill.

Lean forward with the hips but keep the core strong and don’t lean in too much. Widen then stride, but not too much. Gravity naturally does this for the runner. Land on the mid-foot and keep that same effort pace.

How Often To Run Hills

Those who are just looking to increase speed or wanting to be stronger start by incorporating a hilly course or hill repeats into at least one of their runs each week. Those training for a race that includes hills should focus on mastering running hills.

For these runners, start off with a moderate size hill and include hill sprints into one of the weekday runs and their long run. A good strategy for the weekday shorter run is to do 10-second hill sprints followed by recovery and repeat for the during of the run. The longer hilly run should be steady.

As training progresses, increase the number of hill repeats and increase the steepness of the hill to tackle on more of an incline.

Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash.

Running A Hilly Race

Training hills are crucial to being able to complete a race with hills. Properly training and building up leg muscle strength is the most important thing.

Besides running hill repeats, strength the legs in other ways such as regularly taking a spin class and doing weighted exercises like squats with weights.

One race day, run smart. This means running up the hill the same way as in training runs. Run with steady effort and don’t think about pace. If the runner needs to check their watch, it’s okay to be up to a minute slower. Just hold that the same effort while going up and over the hill, the body won’t lose energy and feel as tired as if trying to go full force.

Time lost going uphill is often gained back when running downhill. Remember when it gets tough that what goes up must come back down. Push through the uphill and look forward to the downhill.

The last tip is to practice the course if this is an option. Don’t go into the race blind if a practice run can be done. Those who are traveling out of state for the race should look up the overall elevation of the course and find a route near them where they can practice similar conditions.

Just remember to have fun and that running a hilly race is a greater challenge than running those last and fast courses.

Sources

  1. How To Become A Faster Runner, Lauren Keating, Rockay.
  2. The Benefits of Hill Running, Christine Luff, Very Well Fit.
  3. 4 Simple Form Tweaks That Make Running Hills Easier, Coach Jeff, Runners Connect.
  4. How to Run a Hilly Course, Steve Gonser PT, DPT , Run Smart Online.

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