One minute you’re pounding the streets with visions of glory in your mind; the next you’re slogging your way slowly up an incline. Who put that hill there?!
For many, hills are brutal, unforgiving and deeply irritating. They can sap your will and your muscles and, at times, it feels like they’re the only thing standing between you and a shiny new PB.
But if you focus on integrating them into your running routine, you’ll be astonished at the benefits that come your way. We know – groan. But it’s the truth!
Ready to discover how to turn hills from your enemy into a friend? Let’s find out…
Understand not all hills are equal. There are lots of different types of hills and hill training, and each one will give you a different experience and benefits. Many of us will be familiar with steep sprint hills – 10-25 seconds up inclines of 35-45 degrees – or long hills – 1-3 minutes up hills of 15-25 degrees – but what else is there?
Well, there’s medium hills – somewhere in between the two – but you can also try Kenyan hills – a loop involving uphills, flats and downhills where you attack the hills and the downhills with the same amount of energy and effort. Or apply your fartlek training – where you vary your effort level and pace over the course of a run – to hilly terrain, going as fast as you can up the steepest slopes and slowing things down as you come over the other side.
Don’t lean into it. When heading up hills, it can feel natural to lean quite far forward – but be warned. Staying upright helps your knee drive and balance, which helps maintain your form. And if you lean too far, you can overdo it and fall over – not a great running look.
Shorten that stride. Big strides are not your friend when you’re heading uphill. Instead, little strides will help you control your breathing and feel more comfortable. Many runners feel like they have to ‘attack’ inclines, but end up out of breath and overwhelmed having wasted vital energy. It’s perfectly natural to slow down on a hill, so accept it – then, once you’re at the top, bring your stride back to normal.
Use the momentum you’ve gained. At the top of the hill, it’s important to keep going. It can be tempting to slow down or even stop completely to gather yourself before heading off again, but you’ll lose vital seconds – not great if you’ve got a race coming up and you’re aiming for a PB. Keep the momentum going and run straight over the top.
Learn to love hills. If you constantly tell yourself that hills are the enemy – ahem, guilty as charged – then you’re probably going to continue to find them difficult. Studies suggest that positive mental talk can actually help improve runners’ performance, so why not try it? Have a stock of upbeat phrases ready to tell yourself as you’re heading uphill – “You can do this!” “You’re more than halfway!” – and see if they help.
But the best way to learn to love hills? Run up plenty of them…