5 tips to conquer running hills

In your marathon training, you are bound to meet some hills, both physical and mental. In this post, we’ll address the topic of running hills and how to conquer them.  Unless you’re a crazy person, running up and down hills can be excruciatingly painful. Some people look forward to running hills because of the feeling of triumph when you reach the top all sweaty, sore and out of breath.

Running up hills is hard work. Even at a slower walking or hiking pace, you still feel the burn. Running downhills is a whole different animal that will challenge quads and knees. To get super fit this year, adding hill work to your routine can really jump start your fitness.

If you are looking at running a marathon or half marathon this year, look at the elevation profile of the course. Some races are all downhill, literally, the elevation declines from the starting line to the finish line. Does the race have hills? If it does, you need to be prepared by running hills.

How do you get started running hills? Here are a few pointers:

1. Makeshift Hills

One simple way to prep for hills is to change some daily habits to include a makeshift hill, that’s right, stairs.  Instead of the elevator, take the stairs.  Find ways to take stairs whenever and wherever possible, and then kill it. Walk  briskly, up and down. You may be asking, “what if I don’t live in an apartment?” “What if I live in a rambler in Nebraska?” If you go to the gym to use the treadmill, consider the stair climber instead.  This will up your climbing skills significantly.

2. Pace Yourself

Whether you’re just getting into running, or been running for years, hills present an interesting dilemma. You can run up or walk up, and it really depends on your individual goal. If you want to burn a ton of calories, running is the answer. But in your marathon training there are long-run days.  In this case, you may want to consider starting at a high-intensity run or jog and slow to a walk as you feel your heart beating out of your chest.  If you’re redlining on an uphill, there’s no problem slowing it down to a walk.

3. Run Hill, Repeat, Run Hill, Repeat…

One of the best ways to measure your individual progress on hills is by finding an exceptionally difficult one that seems really tough when you first start running. Here’s what you do. Time yourself running up and running down it.  This becomes your benchmark hill. Repeat that same hill every week, time yourself to see your improvement.

These “hill repeats,” as they are commonly referred to, are really popular among running coaches and trainers for one reason: They freaking work.  It may seem like you’re not doing much, but running the same hill over and over again is a great way to get better at hills.

Interval treadmill for running hills

For those in Western Kansas or any area where hills are hard to come by, you can practice running hills on a dreadmill. Set your incline to something difficult but not impossible.  Do the same repeat workout, going from flat and incline and back again. For some variety, switch attention so that the descent becomes the hard part of the workout and your recovery is the walk back to the top.

running down hill

4. Downhill, Easy

Once you reach the top the hill, you may feel an inclination to speed up on the way down. Believe me, I’ve been there. There’s something amazing and incredibly rewarding about the endorphin rush coupled with the wind rush in your hair as you seemingly, fly down the hill.  I’d caution against this, especially if you’re new to hills.  This can lead to seriously quad burn for days after your run and sometimes injury.

Take a more easy approach to your downhill work. When you’re a newbie to hill work, you can run short downhills at full speed, but for those longer, steeper descents, ride the brakes a little or even walk down.

Increase speed running hills

With time and experience, you can increase the speed to your descent. Getting faster at descending can be a very helpful skill set, especially during a race. Practice letting your legs go crazy on shorter hills. On the more gradual declines, lengthen your stride naturally and lean into it. Running downhills is your reward for running, it shouldn’t be the punishment.

Stay Hydrated

5. Recover the Right Way

Newbies will find that they feel stiff after hill runs. Regardless of whether you are new or a veteran, you should follow the standard protocol for recovery even more carefully.  I know it’s gonna hurt, but foam roll your stiff muscles. Stay hydrated.  If you are really sore, you can use some cold/hot contrasting with an ice bath and a hot shower. The best tip of all, take a day to rest after a brutal hill workout.

Final thoughts on running hills

Hills are difficult, but they can be a vital part of your training. The biggest thing to remember about hills is that, with every uphill there’s a downhill. Once you reach the top, you can see the bottom on the other side. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, empowerment and strength. And those are feelings that make any runner a better runner.