Some runners avoid hills because they can cause injury and they’re, well, difficult. It’s time to reconsider.
In the course of a race or season, you are most likely to encounter a hill or two. Although some courses are completely flat, running hills in your training program will give you strength and boost power for better running performance on a flat or hilly course. It also gives you a perfect chance to work on your technique and ensure that you are as efficient, smooth and less injury prone.
Firstly think about your run cadence – the speed your legs turn over at.
We’ve most likely all felt it – as significant fatigue kicks in during a run, one of the first elements of form to slip is cadence (stride frequency, leg speed). If you’re running at 8min/mile for example, as your cadence decreases, you naturally increase your stride length to maintain the same 8min/mile pace, otherwise you slow down. Inevitably this leads to a runner over striding (stretching
their legs out in front).
Given that many runners over stride when ‘fresh’ this first break-down in running form that comes with fatigue is only going to exacerbate the problem.
Cycling uphill in a high gear with a low cadence is much harder work (and less sustainable) than using a low gear at a high cadence… Try it! You will understand the importance of maintaining leg motion.
When you run you can “shift gears” just like cycling, by shortening or lengthening your stride.
More info on running cadence can be found here.
Also, use your arms! Keep them parallel to the plane of motion instead of swinging them across the body. i.e. make sure that they drive backward and forward rather than rotating the body. Remember we want to keep the body’s momentum going in one direction.
If the hill is steep, lean into it. Remember, hills are our friends! Keep your head up and core strong. Your glutes will be really key here, they won’t work if your backside is sticking out.
The key to downhill running is to lean slightly into the downhill and allow gravity to assist you. Keep your head up. Keep your stride close to the ground. You don’t need to stride out in front, so think of flicking your heels up behind you to increase your cadence but without putting extra shock through your knees. The key is control! Try to stay as relaxed as possible, this will help with balance.
A very important element of efficiently running uphill and downhill is the concept of even effort.
Your goal when faced with a hill should be to expend only slightly more effort when running uphill than you would when running on a flat surface. Equally, you shouldn’t be expending very much less energy when running downhill.
For most runners, this means learning to relax and take it easy when running uphill (rather than attacking). When running downhill, again go against the normal tendencies to hold back, and just let your self go.
This approach allows you to reach the top of the hill feeling good, without excessive exertion. Then you can let the hill (gravity) work for you on the way downhill. This results in an even effort.