For beginning and advanced runners alike, hills can be difficult both physically and psychologically. Many runners avoid hills as much as possible, preferring to run along comfortably flat routes like streets and bike paths. However, whether you’re a recreational runner or a more competitive running enthusiast, there are numerous benefits to learning about hill running and working a couple of hill workouts into your training routine.
Forward and Upward Motion
Running up hills strains the endurance because, to point out the obvious, hill running takes more effort that running on flat ground. When running on a flat surface, you only have to propel your body forward; no energy needs to be spent moving in an up and down direction. In fact, many running experts advise endurance runners to develop a running form that minimizes up and down motion so that the maximum amount of available energy is dedicated to propelling the body forward at a fast yet sustainable pace. When running up hills, however, runners need to strike a balance between maintaining forward momentum and using energy to move the body up the vertical element of the hill.
Emphasize Swinging Arms
For runners who are new to hill running, as well as those who have some hill experience, it is important to develop correct hill running form as early as possible in order to break bad habits and build hill endurance. Contrary to what some people assume, running up hills requires a significantly different form than running on flat ground.
In order to propel the body forward and upward, many running coaches emphasize the importance of swinging the arms. Endurance runners may find this aspect difficult to get used to, because many runners have spent years developing the skill of not swinging the arms much when they run. On flat ground, this is a good idea, but when climbing uphill, get those arms swinging to jolt the body upward and forward without slowing down too much.
Another important aspect of hill running form is the knees. Because climbing a hill involves going up, running with high knees is a good idea to maintain momentum. Runners who don’t lift their knees high enough when running uphill have a tendency to slow down leg turnover and decrease stride length too much, losing time on hills when they could be going a bit faster. The best way to develop good form in the arms and knees is to run hill repeat workouts. Start by running 3 to 4 hill repeats of 200m-400m each, slightly slower than a normal training pace. As you develop the strength to run hills, these workouts can get longer.
The Psychological Element
Although form and endurance are important when running hills, perhaps the most difficult thing about hill running is the psychological aspect. Hills are more difficult on the body, and toughening the mind enough to get up and over a long hill without slowing down excessively can be very challenging. To make matters worse, many runners tend to slow way down toward the top of a hill because the end is in sight and they feel as though strenuous effort is no longer required.
This causes runners to crest the hill at a slow pace, losing time as they accelerate back to the target pace. To avoid this psychological problem, experts have suggested visualizing the hill as longer than it really is. If you picture the hilltop 20% further than the real top, you will keep up momentum as you go over the hill, coming out of the hill at a reasonably fast pace.
Benefits of Hill Running
If you have trouble motivating yourself to run hills, try doing a few hill runs with a group of other people. Running in groups will allow you to motivate one another, and will lend an element of group victory when everyone has conquered the hills. If you make sure to practice hill running, you will be prepared for rough terrain during races and you will develop strength that will help you perform better under any circumstances.