Whilst out training with a group of friends this week they asked me when were we going to start hill repetitions again? So I decided to introduce the new runners at my club to hill sessions. There was lots of huffing and puffing and not much chatting…the longstanding runners knew what was coming!
There are lots of articles explaining the correct technique on how to run hills but I wanted to share my own views on why you should embrace hills, rather than avoid them.
Hills are great for improving your cardiovascular fitness and leg strength.
I have used hill sessions in the past for improving my cross country running to help me deal with muddy and hilly conditions and get me back to full fitness. Hills can enable you to work your cardiovascular system at a high rate. A lot of runners simply don’t have good enough form or leg speed to raise their heart rate which hill repetitions can achieve. A short hill is an ideal way to do this.
Runners avoid hills for many reasons, for beginners the most common issue is they don’t have the knowledge or confidence. When you first experience hills it can be similar to when you first start running. Your breathing can become very laboured and your legs don’t feel like they’re your own! Your body will slowly adapt the more you do hills, just like your running so I would advise trying to find a route with a few gentle inclines to start with, this will give you a good recovery between each hill repetition.
If you are thinking of introducing a hill session into your weekly routine choose a hill that is not too steep. I use hills between 30 seconds to 60 seconds any more than this and your form starts to deteriorate. I vary the length of the hill repetitions, for example 4-5 sets of 30 seconds, 45 seconds and 60 seconds jogging back to the start for the recovery phase. By doing this I find it psychologically easier to deal with when the repetitions are decreasing in time and fatigue is setting in. This will enable you to hold your form for longer.
Simple but effective tips when running up hill:
- Slightly lean forward.
- Keep your torso tall looking a few metres in front.
- Slightly lower your knee lift.
- Shorten you stride length.
- Drive your arms to power you up the hill.
- Most importantly keep your cadence.
Downhill running can be very beneficial too but there is certainly an art to doing this. This is a skill I had to learn when I started with my coach Bruce Tulloh. Bruce always seemed to run downhill so effortlessly and so much quicker than me. I was 25 and he was 65! I knew to improve my performance especially over cross country I needed to change things.
Here are a few things I did:
- Lean forward naturally and comfortably.
- Don’t try to lean back with your upper body.
- Don’t let yourself get out of control.
- Don’t tense your upper body or resist the hill too much.
- Learn to stay coordinated and balanced as gravity does the work for you.
- During races you can actually run faster than your normal race pace downhill without increasing your effort, oxygen consumption or heart rate.
Simple but effective tips and benefits when running downhill:-
- Increase your leg speed.
- Quicken your strides helps keep you free from injury and soreness in the future.
- Allows you to train more consistently and become a much better runner.
- Stay light on your feet.
- Don’t break your speed by landing on your heels.
- Try to land on your mid-foot.
- Bring your arms out slightly wider to help you balance.
So when you next plan your steady run think of putting a few hills into the session.
Remember that your uphill surges are enhancing your economy, but your downhill rambles are also having a very positive impact on your running.
These uphill and downhill techniques helped me to achieve two Midland Cross Country Championship titles, fifth place in the English National Cross Country Championships and two England Cross Country vests.
The best reward when running up a hill is there is usually a lovely view at the top and we are very fortunate in Wiltshire to have some stunning scenery to enjoy.
But you need to run hills to be able to appreciate what’s at the top so give it a go and enter the Marlborough ‘Temple Trail’ Half Marathon on September 20th.
If you’re looking for hills and spectacular views…we guarantee you won’t be disappointed!