On a personal note, I try to do hill workouts at least once a week. I feel when it comes to racing, having the ability to surge up a hill and not crash in the later parts of the race gives you a tactical advantage over your competition. So when I went on vacation and the very first thing I saw was a mountain, I knew I was going up. Prior to leaving for vacation, I was on mapmyrun checking out if there were any cool running trails or elevation gains. Much to my delight, I saw a mountain smack dab in the middle, but it came with a catch. This mountain was 1.25 miles long and gained 1000 ft. The average grade was 22%. For those of you who don't know what grade is, it's just the rise divided by the length (and 22% is about as steep as you'll find anywhere and still be able to run). So morning 1, I set out on a mile and a half run over to the mountain and started my climb. I quickly realized this wasn't going to be as easy as I originally thought, because I was keeled over on the side of the road trying to catch my breath after only about 200 meters. I gave it my best to climb the mountain, but I only got up .75 miles and had to stop about 6 times to catch my breath. But it wasn't over yet. I turned around and was faced with .75 miles of straight downhill where it's way too steep to open up a stride and cruise along letting gravity carry me the rest of the way home. At this grade I had to constantly apply the brakes, making a conscious effort to land on my heels trying to keep from getting to an out of control speed. At the end of the run, not only were my quads burning from the climb up, but my hamstrings were on fire from the downhill portion. The next day all I could do was stare at that mountain and just look at it in disbelief knowing that it beat me. So I regrouped and tried it again two days later with my hill climbing knowledge that I already had, but was too cocky to utilize the first time:
- Take your warmup truly as a warmup, you will need all the energy you can muster to power through the hills
- Shorten your stride, you will really need the increased turnover in your legs to push you
- Lean into the hill, let gravity do as much as it possibly can
- Focus on breathing, especially when in high elevations, the air can really get away from you
- Look ahead, the last thing you want to do it get distracted and trip over something easily avoidable
- Don't lean too far backward, it could cause your feet to come out from under you
- Keep that stride short, it's going to keep your hamstrings from tightening up and keep you at a controllable speed
- Let gravity take you with it, ease into a comfortable pace where it almost feels like work
Back to a more practical note
I know most of you don't have a mountain you can go run up, but the uphill and downhill rules apply to hills of any size. For a typical hill workout, you are going to be doing anywhere from 6-12 repeats of anything from .25-.5 miles or 1-4 minutes. My workout was extreme, I went straight uphill for 13 minutes. A common hill repeat workout is going to have much smaller distances, but they need to be done over and over again. Now, what are the benefits of doing hill workouts? Because you are fighting gravity when you run uphill, you take all the normal muscles you use when you run on flat ground, and give them a supercharged workout. They have to release more power to push you along greater forces, which build up more power in your legs, which ultimately gives you stronger, longer running strides. Hill running has been compared to sprint workouts because they work the same muscle groups, so hill workouts make you run faster. If you are running to lose weight/tone up, hills work your booty and hamstrings, which is a different set of muscles than flat running.
The benefits of hill running are
- You gain a strong, long running stride from increased power in the legs
- Your fast twitch muscle fibers are worked, giving you faster land speed
- You get a rocking body in the process :)
So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and go run some hills! Your PR will thank you. Now go out and enjoy The Life of a Runner.