“I should have done more hill training.”

Me, after the Chuckanut 50

Yes, that is exactly what I said after running my first ultra-marathon, the Chuckanut 50, last Spring. It was more like climbing a mountain than it was running a marathon.

I would have been better off adding a lot more hills (even walking some steep ones) than I would have been running long flat distances like I was training for a regular marathon. But it got me thinking – even if you’re not training for an ultra, hill training is exactly what many runners need to build strength.

So, if you are looking to get stronger for your next race – here’s some advice on how to take that hill.

Baby Steps

Gently and progressively add some uphill to your runs. Don’t start with a long, steep incline. Even before your start running hills, it’s not a bad idea to start some strength training on the lower body like squats, lunges or even skipping to get your lower extremities used to some increased resistance.

When you do start, pick some gentle hills, and see how your body responds immediately as well as the day after. You can always add some steeper inclines, but doing too much, too soon will do more harm than good. I learned this lesson first hand when I pulled my hamstring a few years back. The aggravating pain lingered for years afterward.  Going too fast out of the gate can set you back rather than accelerate your forward. Take it slow.

Pacing

Slow and steady wins this race. Maintain a steady level of perceived effort, letting your pace come down as necessary. You will naturally be faster going downhill as you would going uphill but you can increase the intensity from there and even incorporate intervals. Only add more intensity once you have found your steady state.

Tips for Running Uphill

  • Shorten the stride.
  • Stay on the balls of your feet.
  • Look about 10 steps ahead – don’t stare all the way up the hill, or down at your feet.
  • Stay upright, don’t hunch forward.

Tips for Running Downhill

  • Fight the urge to lean backwards.
  • Wear proper foot ware for traction.
  • Avoid heel-striking. Try to land mid-foot.
  • Relax, don’t pump the arms – use them for balance.

At the end of your hill training, be sure to give yourself a good stretch. Running on hills engages different muscles than running on flat open terrain. Downhill places more strain on the quads, while uphill tends to utilize more glutes, hamstrings and calves.

As long as you progress slowly, not taking on massive hills too soon, hill training can be an extra shot of espresso into your training program!

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