Conquer the Hills Like a Pro
Hills are a big part of road racing. Runners win and lose races on the hills, PRs come and go on the hills, and a lot of us are running them the wrong way. Gravity is a tough opponent, and it takes a few tricks to survive the fight.
When running uphill, you want to lean just slightly from the hips. Your body will lean into the hill naturally, so you probably have this covered. Lift your knees high and let your hips drive you up the hill. It may help to imagine you are running over hot coals. Quick, high steps will get you to the top of the hill in no time.
Your head should be up. You want your focus to be in the near distance or at the crest of the hill you’re running towards, not at your feet. Remind yourself to breathe, keep moving, and focus on your form.
Forget the Watch
Seriously. Don’t look at it when you’re running up and down the hills. It won’t tell you anything that is particularly helpful. Your pace will slow on the way up and accelerate on the way down. That’s just how it works.
Legendary running coach Jack Daniels has come up with a formula for hill running. He found that every percent gradient of incline (going uphill) will slow you by 12-15 seconds per mile, and every percent gradient of decline (going downhill) will aid you by 8 seconds per mile. No surprises there, a hilly course will always be slower.
So, forget the pace and run by effort. Keep a consistent effort going up and over the hills and you will find yourself picking up where you left off once you hit the flats. Other runners will be gasping from the exertion and compromise their overall race strategy.
Run Over the Top
Don’t stop when you get to the top of the hill! The race isn’t over. When you crest the hill pick it up with some quick strides and then settle into your rhythm again. This is a great place to shake your competition or separate yourself from the pack.
Lean, Don’t Reach
Running downhill sounds easy, but it’s not. Many runners prefer the taxing uphill part of the run to the quad shredding impact of the downhill run. However, this is a great place to pick up some speed thanks to gravity.
When running downhill, you want to let the hill do the work. Your legs should be making quick steps that fall beneath your body, not reaching out in front of you. Extending your legs too far in front of you causes you to land on your heel. This will act as a break and increase the force of impact.
Your body should remain close to perpendicular to the hill surface. If you lean too far back you’ll be breaking, if you lean too far forward or you may end up falling. If the hill is particularly steep, it’s a good idea to spread your arms out for balance.
Keep your shoulders and face relaxed. It will help you run loose and easy up and down the hills. Remember to breathe and run at a consistent effort up and over the hill. This will help you to resume your race pace as soon as possible and prevent a mid-race meltdown.
Practice makes perfect. Incorporate hills into your regular workouts and set aside days for hill training. Pretty soon, you’ll be looking forward to seeing the hills at your next road race.
“Hills never get easier, you get stronger.” -Greg LaMond