Running uphillIt’s one of the things most runners dread. You’re happily bounding along, loving your run, and then a hill comes into view, and the fun stops. Even a short incline can sap your energy and leave you gasping for breath, so it’s no wonder so many runners hate hills.

But it’s time to change your view of hills – rather than thinking of them as something to be avoided, see them as a great way to challenge yourself and improve your fitness.

In fact, hill training is one of the most effective ways of sharpening your fitness in a short time. So don’t avoid the hills any longer. Sure, they’ll test you, maybe to your limit, but the rewards are great. Here’s how to get the best out of your hill training.

1. PACE YOURSELF

Regardless of the size of the hill you’re tackling, take it steady at the bottom, find a rhythm for any variations in incline, and if you’re going to increase your pace, do it towards the top of the hill, to add to your sense of achievement.

2. SET YOUR SIGHTS HIGH

Lift your head and look up the hill rather than looking down at the ground in front of your feet. You’ll find it easier to breathe in a more upright position, and you’ll have a better feel for your progress up the hill if you don’t focus your attention on what’s immediately in front of your feet. Seeing the top of the hill getting closer is a great motivator.

3. SPREAD THE LOAD

One of the risks with hill running is that you make your calf muscles do too much work. This will happen if you try to conserve energy and keep your effort to a minimum by using small movements of the arms and legs. Instead, focus on spreading the load throughout your body. Drive your elbows back, which helps generate a more pronounced knee lift. This, in turn, enables you to get more work out of your quads, hamstrings and glutes, all of which will make the hill seem more manageable.

4. SEE YOUR WAY TO THE TOP

One of the benefits of hill training is that, because it’s tougher than running on the flat, sessions can be shorter. Focus on the fact that this high-intensity session will pay dividends. Visualise yourself powering up the hills and then use these encouraging images during your training. Engage your mind and body to get the best out of each hill session, happy in the knowledge that you can completely relax when the short but intense session is over.

5. UP AND DOWN YOU GO

After you’ve conquered the hill, maintain your concentration as you descend. Running uphill and running downhill require different techniques. When you’re running downhill your strides should be shorter – over-striding increases the impact on the body – and you should lean back a little rather than being too upright. Reduce your arm movement to help you maintain control, rather than driving your elbows back as you do going uphill.

 

I RUN FLAT RACES. DO I STILL NEED TO TRAIN ON HILLS?

If you’re happy with your race times, it’s not essential to train on hills, but it’s a great way to add variety to your training. However, if you want to increase your speed for flat races, you really should think about training on hills. Running up hills improves your fitness levels quickly and this makes it easier to run faster and maintain a greater speed when you race again on an even course. Hill work also strengthens muscles and connective tissue, meaning you’re even more likely to bring down your PB times.

Words by Jeff Archer