March 2018 - Uphill Running

The Question

March's question was from Antonio in Brighton. Antonio is suffering from a not uncommon problem:

OK, I hate hills. I mean really really really hate them. But, I also realise I can't avoid them. So what can I do? I don't really avoid them in training, but I don't ever seem to get any better.

- Antonio, Brighton

Simon - running coach
Simon - Middle-distance runner and athletics coach

“Running uphill is just tough. Obviously, nobody runs as quickly uphill as they do on the flat or when going downhill, and the switch in effort to maintain pace can be significant. Similarly, the drop in pace - especially in a race - can be demoralising.

You say you're not avoiding hilly routes, which is great. I would suggest attacking hills from three fronts:

  1. Technique. Make sure you're running as efficiently as possible uphill. Many runners have a tendency to bend at the waist as they "get their head down" and get stuck in. This is a mistake since it'll reduce space around the hips and make leg movement more challenging. Aiming your gaze at the peak of the hill - or at least some point in the distance - can really help prevent this.
  2. Training. Unfortunately, to get better at running hills you need to run more of them. Don't just run hard hill reps though. In order to develop the muscle groups and movement patterns needed to run efficiently uphill, you need to spend lots of time running uphill, and the slower you run, the more you can do. On longer runs, slow down and try to feel as comfortable as possible.
  3. Approach. Remember that the best way to run most distance races is with a consistent effort. Not a consistent pace. This is an important distinction. Many runners see hills in a race as a challenge and work excessively hard at them, using the following flat or downhill as a bit of a break. This is not the most efficient way to tackle them and runners that do so are effectively interval training during a race. Not very efficient!

    Try to maintain a consistent effort (monitoring heart rate is ideal). In reality, this can be difficult, so don't worry if you're working a little bit harder than on the flat. Just make sure you're not going too hard at it. If you take this approach you will in all probability find that other runners are moving a little more quickly than you. But you'll soon make up the difference on the flat and downhill sections that follow (when they're trying to recover from their gargantuan efforts).”

Our Member's Answer

March's member's answer was from Alan L. in West Lothian. Alan thinks the key to decent hill running lies in strength:

Alan L. - strongman

“Do you do any gym work? I found that the main thing that helped me get more comfortable with hills was building leg strength. The big exercises like squats and deadlifts are best. It takes a while to get used to... for a while I was spending a lot of time even more tired on runs, but it made all the difference over time.”

Good advice, Alan. Strength training is something many runners neglect.

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