Learning to love hills

Learning to love hills

Despite most runners' fears, there's a lot to be said for running hills. It works new muscles, grows your endurance, burns more calories and most of all, it offers amazing views.  So how can you work them into your routine? Here are some ideas to help you learn to love the hills.
I have to start with a confession - I spent the first 30 years of my running career as a hill-hater. Of course one runner's hill is another's mountain, but honestly I hated some hills that were little more than a long rise. Regular runs in home cities like London's Richmond Park or New York's Central Park loop include well-known hills that are only a few minutes long, yet even after a 100 times I would still dread that short climb. If this is familiar to you then read on - and if you've already conquered your incline trepidation, then feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.

 

Quite apart from the sense of achievement you will get from cruising up the hills, there are good reasons to include incline-running in your schedule. It will definitely improve both speed and endurance - just feel how fast you can now run on the flat. Moreover its actually good for your legs (especially going up) as it develops the muscles and tendons that will help to protect your legs from injury. Not to forget that running up hill is obviously harder work so you're training your cardio at the same time as burning more calories, so if you have made a New Year's resolution to run more, then think about including some hills!

 

The good news about beating the hills is that it's not much different to running longer distances. All runners know that the furthest distance they think they can run is their longest to date plus a small margin. Of course, the second time we try that 'longer than ever' distance, it doesn't feel that far at all because a new norm has been set. So it is with hills - run up a bigger hill than you thought possible and you will find all hills to come that bit easier. So how can you work that into your routine?

 

First add some small hills into your regular run. Choose a hill that's steep, but not too steep (researchers suggest less than 9%). It can be a short one too, especially if you're doing loops and then you can allow yourself a light jog to catch your breath at the top. In fact if you need to walk or stop for a minute it's no big deal - the key is to keep running the hill. If you're using a tracking app like Garmin or Strava then its likely that other runners will have already created a segment for your hill and you can watch yourself improving each time. A more challenging version for city loops is to include steps instead - you've probably seen those crazy people who do repeat sets of long stairs but boy, are they good at hills (try the 400+ Filbert Steps in San Francisco if you're feeling brave). If you want to work hills into your fitness workout then there are plenty of routines you can find online like this one from PodiumRunner

 

At this point I should offer a few health warnings. With any loop, adding some uphill running means coming back down again so try to find a course where the downhill is fairly gentle. The steeps can be really tough on your joints and the risk of a stumble or fall is multiplied. As always make sure you have the right kit, worn running shoes will exacerbate the impact on your knees so renew your footwear in good time. Remember that you're going to be working new muscle combinations so add some extra stretching routine before and after your run. Finally - look where you're going! Keep your eyes on the trail a few paces ahead so you're always working out where you will plant the next steps.

 

So now you're not afraid of hills anymore? Time to try some real uphill trails. The one thing that transformed my own hill-running was the friend who forced me up the mountainside trails of the Marin Headlands in northern California. Find yourself a trail running buddy or a club to discover routes that you wouldn't try alone.

 

That's when I discovered the real joy of hill running - the view from the top! They're your reward for the hard work of a climb so take a moment at the summit to soak them up, snap a quick pic and enjoy the cruise back down again.

1 comment

Ella

Ella

The great thing about running uphill is that you can slow right down and take it at your own pace. I reckon that’s the key. Don’t be ashamed to walk for a bit when you’re getting the hang of it -you can walk a little bit less on the same hill each week until no walking is required. And later (mebbe years later) you have the satisfaction of overtaking bicycles.

The great thing about running uphill is that you can slow right down and take it at your own pace. I reckon that’s the key. Don’t be ashamed to walk for a bit when you’re getting the hang of it -you can walk a little bit less on the same hill each week until no walking is required. And later (mebbe years later) you have the satisfaction of overtaking bicycles.

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