By Steve Sisson
Why run hills?
Hill training builds strength and power, the foundation for faster running. Walking up a hill takes more effort than to keep running at a slower pace. If you stop and walk up a hill, the gravity will make your body seem heavier and thus force you to proceed with a higher expenditure of energy. If you follow the recommendations below, you should be able to learn to maintain an even, efficient effort on the hills & turn them from a difficulty to a personal strength. If you can begin to consider yourself as strong on the hills you will have a significant edge over the competition & the hill itself.
Relax: R stands for Relax. Take a deep breath as you approach a hill & drop your shoulders. You do not want to be tight as you head into the hill. It is important to consider that most everyone else around you in a race will be really dreading the pain they are going to experience as they head up the hill. If you will relax & think about how well prepared you are for the hills you will have half the battle already won. As you begin to ascend the hill you will your heart just jumped into your throat. This is absolutely normal. Try to relax & breathe.
Effort: E stands for Effort. In general you should try to maintain the same effort level on the hill that you had on the flat section approaching the hill. As you start up the hill keeping the same effort will require you to slow your overall pace. This is just fine. Any extra effort that you put into the hill will have to be paid for later. It is best that you allow yourself to slow & not fight the hill. Just flow up to the top. On very steep hills you will have to raise your effort in order to just keep moving up the hill. This is OK. Just try to run up it as relaxed as possible.
Stride: S stands for Stride. You DO NOT want to shorten your stride. I know this may seem counter-intuitive or be different than other advice you have received but trust me at first & see for yourself if you aren’t significantly more efficient if you just run up the hill with your natural stride length. The hill will make you shorten your stride regardless of your efforts. This is fine & natural. You don’t want to shorten it any more than it already is. Why? Because it requires too much effort run up with tiny strides. Keep to your rhythm & do what feels natural.
Take the Top: T stand for Take the Top. Since you have relaxed, adjusted your pace for effort & run with your natural stride you will have expended significantly less effort & energy to get to the top of the hill than those around you who have really tried to push on the hill. Though they may have run past you, most will not have gained much ground for all their extra work. As you approach the top of the hill you will want to try to take the top & lock into the pace you were running at the bottom of the hill. You will notice that most around you will have slowed down considerable to try to get recovered from their hard push up the hill. You will cruise easily by them & they will not be able to respond. They have worked too hard on the hill & have no energy to continue on at race pace. With your conservative & efficient running up the hill, you are able to get recovered very quickly as you settle back into your pace.
Other Hill Recommendations
During your workout, resist the temptation to stop running and walk up an incline. Slow to adjust for effort. Maintain a natural stride length. Keep your breathing at a calm and regular flow, and your upper body movements in sync with your pace. Efficient running technique can make an enormous difference in running economy on flat terrain, but optimal technique can play an even greater role on hills.
Maintain turnover: When hitting a hill on the bike, a good cyclist shifts gears to maintain cadence. Runners need to do the same. Notice that a cyclist gears down in order to maintain turnover. Maintaining turnover on hills is even more important in running than cycling. Though you will find your stride length shortens DO NOT take exaggeratedly short, quick steps, rather focus on keeping with your natural rhythm.
Keep torso in a straight line: Many runners have a tendency to lean forward into a hill. While you definitely do not want to lean back, avoid bending forward from the waist. If you tend to lean over, think about pressing your hips forward as you run. Make sure your shoulders are not well in front of your hips.
Breathing : The body functions on oxygen & it is the most important component of any athletic endeavor. If your body does not get enough O2, it will not function optimally, or even effectively. Be sure to continue breathing in a rhythm, no matter how quickly it seems to come at you. Keep as consistent rate of inhalation & exhalation as possible, regardless of speed. The diaphragm controls the flow of breath & it functions best when it is rhythmic. Don’t forget to breathe out of every orifice you can. You need to get air in anyway possible. If you can breathe through your ears, all the better!