Your calves are burning. You feel like your lungs are going to explode. When you look up, you see that the top of hill you are scaling seems to be getting further away instead of closer. You decide to stop and take a walk. Then frustration and determination sets in and you start up again and run some more. When you finally reach the top you feel accomplished but frustrated because it was so difficult and you aren’t sure how to fix it. How to run up hills without getting tired? Well, I can’t promise you won’t get tired, because, running hills is hard work! However, I can teach you how to run up hills more efficiently.
I used to hate running hills too…
I’ve been an athlete my entire life, but I hated running. Probably because in basketball, when you screwed up (i.e. late for practice, or didn’t follow instructions, etc.) you ran. It could have been anything from running laps, or line drills. When I decided to pick up running, I really don’t know what got into me; Maybe I was having a bad day, I’m not sure. But little did I know that it would spark a love affair with the road early in the morning that would last for years to come. Not only that, but a love for helping women learn how to run, or improve their running game.
There is a half marathon that I run in the fall yearly now, and I’ll never forget the first time I signed up for it. The very first sentence of the description of the race was “What goes up, must come down”. I thought well isn’t that cute. It wasn’t cute actually, because they weren’t joking. There is literally a hill of decent proportions just about every 1/4 – 1/2 a mile for 13 miles, y’all. Oh I’m sorry, 13.1 miles.
So! At the time I was mainly a flat runner and the flatter the better. Which means that a training plan needed to be found and it needed to be found immediately. I found a free training plan online and when I look back on it, I honestly wish that I had hired a running coach but I thought it was a waste of money. That is, until I saw people with running coaches making and exceeding their goals. Their times decreased, their love for running increased, their strides were better and they always had the best shoes. When I saw all of these results started to think that there was something to it and after some thought and deliberation I became a Certified RRCA Running Coach. These runners with coaches were doing so much better because they had plans that fit their needs by someone who knew what they were doing, not just something they downloaded from somewhere on the internet.
Why do hills even matter in a training plan?
The only runners who shouldn’t be running hills are those that have been running less than a few weeks. She said what? Yep, you heard me right. If you have been running longer than a month, you must make hills part of your routine. No, you don’t have to run hills everyday but once, maybe even twice a week in your routine and you’ll notice a difference.
When hills are added into a running routine, several things happen:
- Your lung capacity increases – to run up a hill, it requires more lung capacity and it pushes the limits of your lungs. When those limits are pushed, it makes your lungs stronger. Have you ever walked up a flight of stairs and been annoyed when you reached the top because you were out of breath? There ya go. Why do you think athletes run bleachers? The up and down and the mix up of movements expand and stretch your lungs and make them stronger. You’re working on creating your “third lung”, as my dad would say.
- Your run time decreases – when you have added in hills into your routine, your overall run time will decrease. Example – if you’re doing a tempo run on fairly flat ground, your time should be quicker simply because you can, because you have been running hills once or twice a week. When I have clients that want to specifically decrease their run times to qualify for this race or that race or they really want to cut time off of their over all run time; I have them run hills twice a week. Same thing goes for if you’re time to cut time off of a 5k. If you run a 30 minute 5k, and you want to run your next 5k in less than 30, add hills in once a week, and voila.
- Your butt looks amazing – oh yeah, sister; I went there. One thing about my writing you should know is that I have no qualms laying it out there like it is. If you read any of my other posts or decide to hang out with me and the girls in my Facebook group for Women you will know that I’m fairly blunt. When you run hills, it engages those gluts and it tightens those muscles up to where you butt can actually lift and sit higher on your body. Literally was talking to one of my newer runners yesterday and she said “okay, Amber, I have a flat grandma booty, I want to fix that.” Girl, let’s run some hills and add in some glut specific cross training. No more grandma booty for you. Thinking about a butt lift? Girl, no. My training services are much cheaper than a butt lift I can guarantee you that, in both money and pain. 🙂
What if I’m sore?
I’ll be honest, there’s no if about it. If hills are new to your routine, you will be sore. You should never ever be in pain, but sore is okay. Soreness let’s us know where weaknesses are and how to adjust, etc. Muscle soreness is something that can easily be taken care of at home and believe it or not, a lot of times (not all the time) but a lot of times, more activity will help ease your muscle soreness.
Let’s talk about running hills and not hating your life while you do it
By now you’re probably thinking, okay fine, so I’ll have a good butt but I literally hate my life when I’m halfway up the hill. Scratch that– I’m at the base of the hill and I’m not even out of breath and I hate my life because I know how badly it is going to suck to get up that Mount Kilimanjaro I’ve got in front of me.
Nobody panic, I have four tips to help you learn how to run up a hill and not hate it.
Look at the top of that Mount Kilimanjaro and keep your eyes there. Do not, for the love of Gu, do not look at your feet. I’ve had runners tell me that if they look at the top of the hill it can discourage them because they see how far they have to go. While I completely understand where they’re coming from, go with me here for a minute.
When you look at your feet, a couple of things can happen. It can actually make it harder to breathe because of the airways being compressed. Also, if you’re looking down or at your feet, you are not able to see what is in front of you. If you’re in the final miles of your run, you’re getting tired and your reaction time will be slower. If you cannot see what’s in front of you, you could be putting yourself in danger. It could be as simple as you tripping, running into a tree, or even more tragic, a car coming at you that the driver may not be paying attention.
That said, keep your head up! It’s vital!
Focus in on your breathing. Don’t think about your legs burning although it’s hard. It’s about refocusing your attention from those burning legs to your breathing. One breath at a time, deep concentrated breaths. In through your nose and hard push of breath out through your mouth. Repeat this motion over and over. Focus on expanding your lungs not just shrugging your shoulders to get a deep breath. Your rib cage should be moving outward not your shoulders shrugging upward. Make sense? Also keep in mind, as your lungs start to feel hard or restricted take even deeper breaths with the same motion.
Pro tip – Practice before you go running, your muscles will create muscle memory which is vital to good form for not only running, but exercise and life in general.
Get on your Toes
A normal run stride should be a mid foot strike rolling to the ball of the foot and pushing off of the ball of the foot to swing the leg forward for a lengthy stride. When you’re running, your natural stride should be just a bit longer than your normal walk stride. Example- pretend you’re falling forward, and your foot naturally falls out to catch you. That’s your run stride length.
Hill Running is the absolute opposite. You run on your toes up a hill with shorter strides. This means your calves will hate you and they will burn. However, the flip side of that is your legs and your butt, will be amazing. Reason for shorter strides on your toes up hill is that it gives you more leverage to scale the hill. Too long of a stride and you chance tripping or pulling a muscle. If tripping isn’t bad enough, tripping on a hill is 100 times worse.
This change in stride will probably give you some sore muscles but that is okay! Remember, sore is okay, pain is not. Remember that ice is your friend! When your calves get sore, ice them. Butt sore? Sit on a cold pack. I used to like heat on sore muscles, but I’ve since changed my tune and ice truly is the way to go. I was a Physical Therapy Tech for almost 6 years and we used these ColPac’s that are gel and flexible. Plus, in my certification training they hardly ever suggest heat, it’s always cold. These ColPac’s are the way to go. I still have one that is about 10 years old at this point, and it still works amazing. You can get the big ones on Amazon for $16 which is cheeeeeeaaapppppp. Okay? They used to be $35 when I got mine, so they’re less than half of what they used to be.
E for Effort
When you are running hills, remember E for effort not S for Speed. Why? Well, with all of the things to keep in mind that we’ve talked about while running up the hills, going for speed isn’t the answer. The quality of your run up the hill is much more important than how fast you go up the hill. Remember that there is a downhill on the other side that will help you catch back up in regards to your time. As you’re going down the hill, your speed naturally increases and you can catch your breath and your speed will even back out.
There is a hill in my town that every single local runner knows because it is loooooonnnngggg and then about 3/4 of the way to the top, it decides to go straight up. I’ve run that hill as fast as I can as well as based on effort using these four tips and every single time I do it properly instead of trying to get it over with as fast as possible, I enjoy my runs so much better and I end up not having to walk at the top. Each time I use effort instead of speed, I get further faster every time without fail. Effort means a nice steady pace using your stride, breathing, and upward gaze to your advantage.
Hit the road, sister!
Are you ready to surprise yourself? Because using these tips, you will most definitely surprise yourself. Believe it or not, I actually look forward to running hills now. How do you start? Start with one day a week running hills, then if you’re feeling good, add in two days of hills. Then put your practice into work and sign up for a 5k that has hills in the race pattern. Once you’ve got that down, move up to a half marathon or full marathon if you so desire. The color run is making its rounds in 2018 and you can click here to see if they’re headed to your town.
I’ll be honest, my favorite tip in this post is keeping your eyes up and on the prize. Why? Because I really enjoy a good metaphor and running up a hill is a lot like working your way through hard times in life. You get tired, you get discouraged sometimes, & sometimes you have to walk instead of run… But at the end of the day, when you reach the end of the hard time (or top of the hill) you can look back on that hard time brush your shoulders off and feel accomplished. You fought to the end and didn’t give up. Lessons were learned, battles were fought, and you’re a better person (or runner) for it. It’s time to run down the other side of the hill.
Enjoy the downhill slide!
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