Why is it that hills never look as imposing in a photo as they do in real life? You try to snap a picture of the crazy hill you tackled on your run and it looks like a flat road. Tell me I’m not alone in this!
Photographic evidence aside, today I’m going to share some of my favorite tips to make hill running easier, so you can improve your running performance.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a great uphill runner. But over the years I’ve gotten much better at running hills! Improvement is a huge part of enjoying running over the long-term, because that sense of accomplishment keeps up going.
Before we jump to the tips, let’s start with a review of when you should include hills in their training programs.
Hills should be part of your training when:
- Training for a hilly race
- Getting ready to start speed work
- Want to improve your running strength (for speed)
- Enjoy trail running
- Live in a hilly area
That’s a pretty wide variety of reasons, even for those not training for a race at all!
6 Tips to Improve Hill Running
1. Steady Effort
Although I typically use running paces to guide my training, when you run uphill you should shift your focus to your effort. Aim to keep your effort even with the effort before you hit the hill. This likely means you will slow your pace, but this will help you manage the energy you are using. You want to hit the top of the hill ready to run through, not stop and pass out.
2. Small Steps
I remember a fellow runner giving me this advice on a hilly route through Roswell, Georgia. This had the biggest impact on my uphill running and it’s a simple change. Take smaller steps! With the shorter stride length, you’ll likely up your cadence naturally to balance.
3. Shift Your Gaze
When running on a flat surface, you want to look out in front of you (a natural gaze). When going up the hill, I shorten my focus significantly and look slightly uphill. Remember you never want to look down (unless you are running a technical trail and are trying to place your footing). Gazing just slightly up helps you keep forward progress, without getting overwhelmed by the full hill looming overhead.
4. Positive Thoughts
Much of running is mental – if you get in your head, things can go downhill quickly (pun intended). If you find your thoughts shifting to focus on the negative – this is hard, I’m tired, I can’t finish this hill, I really want to walk – make a conscious effort to fill your head with more positive thoughts. I often find repeating a mantra in these situations helps – like “just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo. A short phrase works best for me, but feel free to adjust to find what works for you.
5. Controlled Breathing
If you’re struggling with the uphills, it probably shows in your breathing. Short, labored breaths take a toll on your ability to run steady. If you notice your breathing getting out of control, focus on getting that back under control with a few deep breaths and then adjust your pace as needed.
6. Relax Downhill
Now that we’ve gotten you safely (and more comfortably) to the top of the hill, it’s time to relax into the downhill and recoup some time. Stand up straight and allow the gravity of the hill to pull you forward and down. Keep your shoulders aligned over your hips – fight the urge to lean backwards as much as possible. Return your stride length to normal and relax into the hill.
Now it’s time to find a local hill and put these tips into practice. The more you run hills, the more you will improve. Try this hill workout to get started & then let me know how it’s going! Send me an email or tweet me to share your hill running accomplishments.