Picture this: You're out for a run. You round a bend, and right in front of you is a nice long hill that appears to go on forever.
What is your first thought? Mine definitely used to be "Ugh, seriously?" I giggle a little now when I think about that reaction. My perspective on hill running has significantly changed since I began running in 2010. Now I approach hills as a challenge and an excuse to display my hard work (and a little bad-ass-ness).
Nick and I are training for the Blue Ridge Half Marathon (you can read my race report from the 2014 race here). The Blue Ridge Marathon boasts that it's "America's Toughest Road Marathon". After running the half last year, I'd say they have a pretty good argument for that. The half marathon has 3,790 ft of elevation change and two pretty fearsome mountains to conquer-- Mill Mountain and Peakwood Drive. Needless to say the course is tough.
elevation profile for the Blue Ridge Half Marathon
In relatively flat Southern Maryland you just don't find the hills you need to be adequately prepared for Blue Ridge.
The way we've found to compensate for that is to add treadmill hill miles at 11% grade into our weekly workouts and to make sure every long run we do has a few big hills in them.
So back to the original thought-- how do you react to encountering hills on your run? If you're like I used to be, or are just looking for some tips, read on for a list of tips and tricks I've compiled from my experience conquering hills.
1. Don't look up. The moment I start focusing on how far I've got to go to get to the top, my attitude goes down the drain. I waste way too much energy internally complaining and wishing I was anywhere else. Focus a few feet ahead of you. Before you know it, you'll be at the top.
2. Back off on your pace. You might be thinking,"But I'm already slow as a snail and now you want me to go slower??" Yes. I do. It's all about keeping your heart rate in the aerobic zone. Once you go anerobic you'll begin to fatigue sooner. It's tough for your body to sustain anerobic exercise for long periods of time. When you encounter a hill try to keep you heart rate the same as on flat ground-- that means backing off the pace.
3. Think middle foot. When running on flat ground the best posture is to land slightly forward. When running hills, if you rely on landing forward on your toes you will significantly fatigue your calf muscles; especially on long or steep hills. Landing on your middle foot will spread out the workload on your muscles.
4. Breath. Sometimes when we are concentrating really hard on something we forget to breath. Try to keep your breathing even and steady as you climb that hill.
5. Don't stop at the top. Many of us would love to stop at the top and either double-over to catch our breath or throw our hands in the air in triumph. The worst thing you could do is stop at the top. Once you reach flat ground run a 10 second burst of speed. It will help your legs turn over so that your pace doesn't suffer the rest of your run. If you stop or slow down your legs might start to cramp up.
Now that you've made it to the top-- enjoy the downhill :) I know it's my favorite part. Sometimes I (briefly) close my eyes as I run down hill. It makes me feel like I'm flying.
So tell me-- what do you do to conquer hills?