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!

“Get me across the finish line” half marathon training plan

Note: I had drafted this post before the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, but held off running it because it just didn’t feel right making light of crossing a finish line when so many didn’t get the chance this past Monday. But now that the second bomber has been captured and is in custody, it’s time for the healing to begin. So let’s run…for Boston. 

A friend of mine just signed up for a half marathon this fall. The best part? It’s her first post-baby 13.1-miler, and she’s doing it along with her sister, who will be tackling the distance for the first time. You go, gals!

My own sister has also been a willing guinea pig participant in both the Rock n’ Roll Chicago and the Detroit Free Press International half marathons with me, so I thought I’d share our favorite training plan below.

It’s loosely based on Hal Higdon’s training program, but I tweaked it a tad for our individual schedules and fitness levels – i.e. sometimes I’ll take an extra rest day or swap a cross training session (elliptical, bike, rower, stair stepper) in for one of the mid-week runs to help aid in recovery and prevent injury.

Check it out, and let me know what you think (and if you use it for a race, I’d love to hear your results)!


Offering prayers and miles for those in Boston

Channing Tatum uploaded this image on to Instagram.  Copyright [Instagram/Channing Tatum]

Channing Tatum uploaded this image on to Instagram.
Copyright [Instagram/Channing Tatum]

Whether you’ve crossed it as a runner or watched it as part of the crowd, there’s no place on Earth quite like a marathon finish line – especially the Holy Grail of races, Boston.

Although I’ve never run the race myself, some of my fondest running-related memories were made on the Boston Sports Clubs‘ (BSC) rooftop near the race’s finish line, where I worked part-time as a personal trainer while in grad school.

The entire staff would gather above the entrance and cheer runners on for hours at a time, relishing in watching the range of emotions as they crossed the line – pure joy, relief, pride…and a thousand other thoughts at once.

That’s why it’s especially painful and surreal to see the stark contrast in this year’s coverage – of the same exact place where so many good memories have been made. Except now, in one moment, it’s been marred by an unbelievable tragedy. An incomprehensible act of evil.

But only momentarily will we falter. Little do they know they picked the wrong city and the wrong group of people. Boston is tough and has so much heart – and so do runners – which is why I know we will prevail and not allow this to let us lose our faith in humanity.

I think Kristin Armstrong said it best in her reflection on yesterday’s race, saying:

We cannot undo the evil that was done. But we can inhibit the goal of division. Let’s do that. Let’s not give them the pleasure of our division, the foothold of our futility.

Let’s instead do what runners do best. Let’s be strong. Let’s be patient as information comes in. Let’s pace ourselves. Let’s endure. Let’s close the gap and tighten up the pack. Let’s recover together.

The road ahead is long. But little do they know, we’re good with that.

Join me in praying and offering miles for the good people in Boston.

Yes, Kristin – I will be praying and running today for all those who cannot.