If you’re like most runners, hills are the bane of your existence. Nothing affects your overall pace more quickly—or saps the strength from your legs more effectively—than running up and down steep hills. If you want to learn to be a good all-around runner you’ll have to learn how to tackle the challenges that come along with hilly terrain. Here are some tips to help you become a better runner on hills.
Embrace the Pain
Simply put, the best way to get stronger on hills is to run on hills. The sooner you realize that the better off you’ll be. If you’ve been avoiding certain running routes because they are very hilly, you’re not giving your body the consistent repetitions it needs to become accustomed to the demands of exerting itself while running up and down long inclines. You can rectify this by slowly adding hills to your workout routine, ramping up the number and steepness over time. This will help your body improve its level of cardio fitness and build muscle, both of which are important for becoming a better hill runner.
Improve Your Form
As with all aspects of running, good form is vital to success on hills. When going up a hill, you should keep your back straight and lean slightly forward at the hip while keeping your chest up and your head and eyes raised. This will not only provide you with proper balance, but it will also allow you to get the oxygen you’ll need as you begin to exert yourself more fully. Keep your knees moving at a steady, regular pace and point your toes at the ground, pushing off as you climb. This can provide a surprising amount of energy that will help propel you upward more quickly and efficiently.
Although running downhill is not as taxing, obviously, good form is still very important. Once again, you’ll want to lean slightly forward at the hips while maintaining a straight back. Your feet should hit the surface at the middle of the sole of your shoes, landing on the ground just in front of your pelvis. Your stride will naturally lengthen as you go down the slope, but be careful not to allow yourself to get too fast or out of control. Use the descent to catch your breath and regain some strength in your legs before picking up the pace once again.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
A common mistake that many runners make when chugging uphill is looking down at the ground instead of watching what’s up ahead. This can have a psychological advantage in that you won’t be looking at the top of the hill, which can seem impossibly far away at times. But it also leads to poor form, which can have an impact on your overall performance.
Instead, shift your gaze to about 20–30 yards in front of you. This will make it easy to see where you’re going and will have the added benefit of keeping your head up, making it easier to breathe when your body starts to go into oxygen debt.
Run Hill Repeats
When you’re truly ready to get serious about improving your speed and strength on hills, you may want to start incorporating a workout routine that involves nothing but running hills over and over. The concept is simple. Once a week, pick a challenging hill that you are familiar with and run up and down it 10 or 12 times.
Start off by pushing yourself to the top as quickly as you can. Once you’re there, turn around and head back down to where you started. Take a short break to catch your breath between each repetition, then go at it again to see if you can beat your best time. If you concentrate just on running hills, your body will become much stronger, which can really pay off if you plan to run any races in the future.
Learn to Pace Yourself
Learning to pace yourself while running uphill is just as important as perfecting good form. It may look impressive to sprint up a steep slope, but it doesn’t do you much good if your legs are completely drained of strength and energy when you reach the top and you still have miles to go before you’re done.
The trick is to finish the ascent without completely expending all of your energy. This will allow you to quickly regain your strength and maintain a steadier pace over the remainder of the workout. It takes some time and experience to develop this skill, but it pays dividends in terms of making you a stronger all-around runner.