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Running Hill Training

Running Hill Training

Running hill training is my second favorite training right behind speed training (note the sarcasms). However, if you don’t train hard on what your weaknesses are you will never become a better runner.  Running hill training is my weakness, well at least up hills.  So if you are still reading about running hill training then you must be serious about improving your trail running performance and improving your fitness lifestyle.  Let’s take a look at what you will need to do.

Building Your Foundation

Running hill training is similar to other running training goals such as running a marathon.  Running hill training requires that you build a base before stepping up your training program.  What this means is that you build a foundation of cardiovascular endurance before you decide to do running hill training.  Running hill training is not for those who are just coming off the couch.  Before seriously considering running hill training you should be running no less than 15 miles per week for the last 6 months.  This should be your first goal before starting your running hill training.

Conquer Your Hill

I relate running hill training to my cycling days of hill training. (Yes, I am a former road bike and mountain bike racer).  When you start your running hill training keep this in mind, you are going to feel just as tired reaching the top of your hill no matter how long you have been running hill training.  However, although you fell the same exhaustion,  you will be reaching the top faster and faster each time.  You know that you running hill training is working when you take the time it took you to get to the top of your hill the very first time and then later run that same time to get to the top.  You will find that you can run up your hill effortlessly.

After you have found your hill you may find that even 100 feet up a hill may be a challenge.  Don’t despair and take your hill at a nice, steady pace, and then take a power hiking break.  If your hill is not very long, you can walk back down and do repeats.  If hill is longer, just keep alternating running with power hiking.

Proper Form for Running Hill Training

Running Hill Training on Hope Pass, Leadville, Colorado.

Running hill training form is everything.  Concentrate on keeping an upright posture.  Keep your head up and shoulders low and relaxed, and pump your arms higher and more vigorously.  Just like every other sport, your body will follow where you are looking.  If you are looking down in front of you, that is where your body is going to want to go.  You don’t want to be running into the hill, you want to be running up the hill, so look up.  Keep a straight line between your ears, shoulders, and hips, and your ankles at the point of foot fall.  Basically you want to “fall up” the hill.  You accomplish this by leaning your entire body forward into the hill.  Do not just bend at your waist.  Gravity can help you fall up the hill, so use it to your advantage.

Running Hill Training Check List

Mentally go over your running hill training check list while running up and down hills.  Start from the top of your head and work your way down as follows:

Head: Keep your head up, not bending at your waist.  When it really starts to hurt, don’t give in by looking down.  This not only wastes energy, but it will also throw you off your form.

Eyes: Do not look down at your feet, keep your focus directly ahead of you.

Hands: Just like in cycling up hills, keep your hands loose.  Do not clench them into fists.

Legs: You want to have a stride that will be off and up rather than into the hill.  Try to have a spring in your step.

Brain: When getting to the top of the hill, visualize that the top is still 50 feet away from where it actually is.  This trick for running hill training will help you keep your momentum over the top.  The term “over the top” is one that I use from my cycling days.  When you get to the top of the hill is the time to put the boosters on.  During a race nobody is going to say, “hey, can we slow down so I can catch my breath”.  This is the time to put the hurt on.  To be able to accomplish this run the first two thirds of the hill as relaxed as you can, and then accelerate toward and over the top.

Torso: Lean forward from your ankles not your waist.  This forward falling will help keep your momentum going up the hill.

Arms: Running hill training calls for an accelerated arm swing to help drive your body up the hill.  Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle at your elbows and swing straight back and forth, not across the front of your body.  While running downhill, shorten your arm swing.  This will help you to keep your foot falls underneath you.

Feet: Running hill training will have you take shorter strides with a higher cadence going up hill.  While running hill training downhill concentrate on keeping your feet underneath you.

Increasing Your Distance in Running Hill Training

Increasing your distance is the next step to conquering your hill.  One goal is to find a hill where you can find an exertion level that you can maintain for longer and longer periods of time.  Running hill training for me is different than race day.  For instance, on race day my running up hill mentality is: “if I can power hike faster than I can run, then I should stop running and start power hiking”.  However, while running hill training I do just the opposite, I push through it even if I could walk/hike faster.  Training is the time to push unnecessarily so race day will be easier.  See my article Your Invisible Training Partner to learn more.

Running Downhill

Running Down Hill at the Rockin’ K 50 Mile Trail Race

This is where I excel, but it took me a long time to feel comfortable doing this.  While starting your running hill training program, start the downhill slowly.  Your inherent risk to injury is much greater running down hill.  Mentally go through your running hill training checklist.  Stay relaxed, lean slightly forward, take shorter arm swings and increase their cadence to help you land your feet underneath you.  A good way to judge if you are striding in front of your body is to look at your wrists.  For the most part, where your wrists swing in front of your body is where your foot will land.  Also, to increase your foot cadenced you increase your arm swing cadence.

For downhill running hill training you may want to incorporate ankle strengthening exercises.  My article Increasing Strength and Endurance Through Balance Training has many great tips for just this.

Head for the Hills

After you have incorporate running hill training into your arsenal, the trails will open up all sorts of new possibilities.  You will be amazed how much fun it is to run up the hills that you had to walk previously.  With your running hill training you will now look at the hills and mountains differently and salivate to hit the trails and conquer them all.

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