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Tips For Running Up Hills

10 Tips to Fly Up Hills During Your Runs

My running club has a name for the biggest hill on our training route: Big Daddy. Big Daddy is long and steep and fell near the end of the 10K route we were training for. The year before, I had simply chosen to walk Big Daddy, but giving up on the hill had weighed on me all year. I needed to get over my fear of the hills I faced on my weekly training runs. As a runner, you may never like hills, but there are ways to get over your fear of running hills and build the best endurance — and legs! — of your life.

  1. Run up the hill. The most obvious tip is also the most important. If you want to run a hilly race or just build endurance and confidence instead of shying away from hills, you have to start by running up the hills. Adding hills to your weekly training runs will leave you better prepared and stronger for your next road race. Even if you can't make it all the way up the hill without stopping for a brief walk, get started by confronting your fear head on.
  2. Have patience. If you're new to running hills, you may not be able to run up your own Big Daddy without building up to it. Start small and build toward the top of the hill by running for 30 seconds and walking for 30 seconds. As you begin to get stronger, run more and walk less until you can make it to the top of your own mountain.
  3. Go somewhere else mentally. You may not be able to escape the hill work, but that doesn't mean you have to obsess over it while it's happening. Let your mind wander, imagining a finish line, a flat scenic route, or whatever else takes your mind off the burn in your legs while you climb.
  4. Bring a friend. Getting through a tough run is easier with a running buddy. Just having someone alongside you to encourage you or complain to can make the hill seem easier. Together, you can celebrate each accomplishment when you run longer, faster, or more easily to the top of the hill.
  5. Lean back. The natural tendency when charging up a hill is to lean forward, but you're not doing yourself any favors. Lean back, straighten your back, and give your lungs room to take a clean, deep breath. This will help prevent lower back and knee pain.
  6. Small steps. Shortening your stride while you conquer hills can make the hill seem easier, too. Focusing on each small step toward the top of the hill not only takes some pressure off of your thighs, but gives you something to focus on, literally, one step at a time until you reach the top.
  7. Practice perspective. Unless you're running along the top of the Rocky Mountains, the hills in your race or on your route probably aren't as bad as they are in your mind. Big Daddy, for example, only made up about two-tenths of a mile on the 6.2-mile course. Even though we practiced Big Daddy every run, talked about it until we were crazy, and dreamed about it the night before the race, in the great scheme of a long race, it was just one part. Keep perspective on your hill while you prepare for the race, knowing it's unlikely that the entire race is uphill.
  8. Practice more frequently. You probably need more practice running up the hill than you do running the flat portions of the course. Even if you're not doing a regular training run on any given day, try to fit in time to run up the hill. Use your lunch break, a short stop on your way home from work, or any other small increments of time you may have to stand at the bottom of the hill and run your way up. With every step, your legs and your brain are getting stronger and more acclimated to the hill.
  9. Celebrate the climb. Every time you make it up the hill without walking, take a minute to celebrate yourself. There's a reason that hills and mountains make for common life metaphors, so don't miss the opportunity to celebrate yourself for making the time to improve. With every run, there's something to celebrate if you look hard enough. Celebrating at the top will also give you with a pleasant memory you can hold onto for motivation to try again tomorrow.
  10. Don't ignore the downhill. With most road races, if you run up a hill, you also likely have to run down the hill on your way back on the course. Form is just as important running downhill as it is uphill. Focus on taking small, light steps and try to prevent any pounding on your way down. Pounding too hard on the way down will wreak havoc on your knees and lower back. Use the trip downhill to run softly and catch your breath in time for the next big hill on your route.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell
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