Hills: Your not-so-secret trick to better running this year

Photo courtesy of WeDoRunRun.Blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of WeDoRunRun.Blogspot.com

There’s no denying that runners have a love/hate relationship with hills.

Most begrudgingly regard them as a necessary evil, others plot routes to avoid them altogether, and a small sliver actually step up to embrace the challenge.

I like to think of hills as the “vegetables” of a running regimen: They may not be the most appealing thing on the menu, but respecting and learning to love hills can make you a stronger, fitter and faster runner.

Yes, hills can hurt – both the body and the ego – but as much as they are a runner’s nemesis on the roads, they’re are also one of the ways in which runners can dramatically improve technique. But before you add them into your weekly runs, attacking them with abandon, think differently about approaching hills in order to see maximum results.

Start by following the lead of professional runners who deploy more efficient techniques for tacking hills:

  • First, rather than giving an all-out effort, try metering your exertion on the way up. The goal is not to expend all of your energy on the ascent
  • Next, fight your natural instinct to breathe that sigh of relief at the top and hold back on the descent in an attempt to recover. Instead, let the hill work for you on the downslope, and push yourself to keep pace
  • Finally, think about maintaining an even leg cadence on both sides of the hill, which will help you level out your effort. To accomplish this, you’ll have to vary speed and stride length (which, on the plus side, may just help distract you a bit from the pain).

Developing good form takes practice, so slowly add hills into your training routes and consider devoting one day each week for hill-specific drills.

In addition to evening our your exertion over the hills, be sure to maintain good posture and watch ahead for changes in terrain so you can adapt your speed and stride seamlessly. The last thing you want to do is to expend too much energy switching “gears” mid-hill.

Runners, got any more tips for mastering those mighty inclines? Feel free to share with us!

6 thoughts on “Hills: Your not-so-secret trick to better running this year

  1. I found it helped to breathe two breaths normally and then empty my lungs on the third one. This regulates your breathing which can speed up so that you feel too breathless to continue, especially with hills. A fellow runner introduced me to the technique when I was struggling in a 10k race and I’ve used it ever since!


    • Great tip – thank you for sharing! I hadn’t heard of that and will definitely try it. I also read recently about a breathing technique similar to that to help limit injury. Apparently we breathe out when the same foot lands each time, so it’s good to change it up and meter breathing to make it more even. It’s a little tough at first, but actually takes your mind off part of the run!


  2. I so needed this! I just moved and in mapping out a new running path I found that there is no way to avoid the giant hills in my neighborhood. I realized I just had to conquer them. This was definitely helpful in doing so. Thanks!

    Hope you don’t mind if I link this in my next post about the “conquest”…


    • Awesome! Glad it helped 🙂 I, too, moved recently and have been re-training myself on all the hills…pace may be slower on training runs, but it’s worth it when you’re better prepared to race on a flat course!


  3. Pingback: A Positive Spin on a Cynical Cliche | Food, Fitness & Folly

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