Hill running. You either hate it or you love it. I doubt there are many people who, when turning a corner and see a long steep incline, see it the same way as they do a nice, long, flat road. Perhaps if they’ve always lived in a hilly part of the world and don’t realize flat roads exist, maybe…. But for many of us, this is just not the case.
When in the middle of a training season, I look forward to my hill workouts with excitement and anticipation. But when I’m at the bottom of that hill and realize the hard work that awaits me, I tense and curse myself before I even begin. (Enter my progressive muscle relaxation.) Hills make my legs burn, my lungs ache, and my mind focus like no other workout. Tonight for my running club, I had the girls do hill repeats and I wanted to be able to explain why hill repeats are beneficial and why they should welcome the burn.
So my question: What are the benefits of hill running? And what are some good hill workouts?
Hill repeats make you a stronger runner. Period. When running uphill you are fighting gravity and forcing your entire body (hips, legs, ankles, back), to work together. All of your muscle groups are working harder, which in the end, make them stronger. Within your running world, uphill running can be more effective and conducive to running economy than any amount of leg presses at the gym. If stronger muscles aren’t enough to convince you to embrace the hills, consider this: people who run the hills have a higher concentration of aerobic enzymes, which allow them to function at higher intensities for longer periods of time. In other words, you have more power and can run longer than your zero incline running partners. Other benefits include making you a faster runner, a less injured runner, and a more confident runner. The way I’ve always looked at it is if I can tackle a hill during training, any slight incline during a race becomes a piece of cake. I’ve done it before, and I know I can do when it really counts.
There are many different ways you can incorporate hills into your workouts. One way is to run short (100-200 meter) hill repeats at an almost all out effort, jog easily back down the hill, and then do it again. The amount of repeats you do will obviously depend on your fitness and training goals. Another way is to do your long run along a hilly course. Make sure the last part of the run has quite a few hills and aim to maintain your pace throughout all of the hills. By doing this with tired legs, you are forcing yourself to focus on form and running economy. Which in turn makes your stronger and of course, more confident. Another type of workout (which was new for me) is a long hill circuit. Find a course that has several uphill climbs. Run your uphill interval (which can be as short as half a mile or as long as 2 miles) and any flat sections at 5K pace. On the downhill, run at a semi-easy effort. Aim to do about 3-4 miles worth of hills and then jog easy between each circuit.
When i was looking at the different hill workouts, there was always an emphasis placed on warming up beforehand. Also, form was really stressed. Keep your back straight and your arms by your side, at a 90 degree angle. And from my personal experience, it always helps to keep your eyes about 10 feet in front of you. That way you’re not staring at your feet or looking at what is awaiting. Your are just tackling it little by little.
Our hill workout tonight was awesome. Everyone really pushed hard and made each repeat count. Although I haven’t really focused on hills in a while, I could really tell the difference strength training my upper body had made. I literally felt my arms pulling me up the hills. It was pretty awesome and reminded me of the importance of a strong body. Maybe if I continue to tell myself I love the hills and practice my progressive muscle relaxation, I will welcome the burn with open arms.
Happy Trails and Happy Running,