The post that every runner wished for when they started running! Unless blessed with the mountain goat-like qualities of Ricky Lightfoot or Jasmine Paris then this is could be the holy grail of advice it took me a long time to realise: the secret of running up hills.
When I first dabbled into running off-road, I was truly amazed at how much more difficult it felt. The surface I was used to were the generally flat and smooth streets of Nottingham. Moving out into rural Derbyshire and being introduced to off-road running was somewhat of an eye-opener. My body wasn’t used to the uneven paths and having to push through mud and long grass. Putting a hill in my way was a showstopper and I’d be walking almost straight away.
My partner would tell me that it was in my mind, that I just needed more will power to get up the hills. The burning muscles, gasping lungs, profuse sweating and exploding heart certainly didn’t feel like my imagination. However, looking back I think this is partly true. You get to a hill you have been defeated at before and in your mind you already know this is hard and that little voice starts shouting up “just walk, it’ll be easier, why waste all that energy you might need later”.
I did a fair bit of research to see what the trick was getting up hills, what techniques might make life easier. There must be some special knack of doing it right?
And do you want to know what I found out? Brace yourselves, wait for it….RUN UP MORE HILLS!
Don’t worry, you can thank me later. For a person who actively disliked hills this was somewhat of a sad realisation, that the only way to get better running up hills was to run up more of them more often. OK so that sounds a bit flippant as there is also a bit of technique to practise as well but what I mean is, there was no quick fix, no easy solution to help me get better any faster. Nothing but a bit of hard work would do it.
As soon as this was lodged in my mind I began to look at those hills a bit differently. Now don’t get me wrong, this took a long time. I would get into big huffy strops if I had to stop to walk when everyone else was still running up and would beat myself up about not being good enough to run all the way to the top. On occasion there may have even been tears of frustration, but don’t tell anyone that. Obviously, this sort of attitude isn’t very helpful but comes from my ridiculous competitive streak (I chatted about this in a previous blog post here).
I’d say it is only really in the last year that I can look at hills on a run or race and think “oo this is going to good” as opposed to “I want to die right here on the path” (see blog post 13 things fell runners say at races versus what they actually mean). In the last year pretty much all of my race times have improved mainly because I have become more positive about getting up those hills.
There isn’t much I have changed in my training during this time. The main element is simply having been running up hills for another year and having that experience and fitness. Hills I used to dread are now perfectly runnable. Some hills are not but I try not to worry about those too much, a good power walk is nothing to be ashamed of and sometimes I overtake people who are still running with a strong walk. Incorporating a specified hill session once a week is also a really great idea. We do this with the Belper Harriers, set aside 30-40 minutes on a good hill to do about 8 reps or as many as you can fit into the time. It never feels like a lot but it genuinely works wonders. Finally, thinking about technique is key. It is so tempting to try and stride out on a hill and cover more ground. However, taking small steps with a higher cadence is a much better method.
I’m not expert of course and there are many better runners out there than me, but I do know that this is what has worked for me. Good luck and happy running x