Why should you run hills?

What is the importance of running hills? 

Why should you have it as part of your training regimen?  Even if your upcoming race is flat?

Here are all the reasons why!

We run hills because……

·         They create a strength training workout for your lower extremity – you don’t need lower body weight workouts if you do hills once/twice per week – you could do this in lieu of speed work and/or tempo running day.  Hills work on all opposing muscle groups and can really balance you out.  Hills will also tell you where you are week – for example, if your knees hurt (on the top), more than likely your hamstrings are weaker than your quadriceps muscles and your body is overcompensating for that.

·         They help you focus on your form.  Hills will keep you honest, because if you lean too far forward or back, then you’ll find yourself straining your neck/back and not being able to breathe fully.  Focus on the hill ahead of you by looking up, breathing fully, be slightly bent at the waist, fully swing your arms to increase momentum.  Keep a strong core with focusing on bringing your navel (belly button) back toward your spine as often as you consciously can do so.
Also, shorten your stride both up and down the hill.  Don’t allow yourself on the way down to get caught up in the inertia/gravity’s pull on bringing your legs down too fast, thus lengthening your stride.  Doing this can injure your knees and hamstrings.
As another option to safeguarding your knees, you can run down the hill backwards if need be – to lessen the impact/pounding on your knees. 
Lastly, whether you use a heel-first strike or mid-foot strike first is up to you.  There are theories around either one, the most important things is to find which one feels more comfortable and hurts you the least!  Good running biomechanics will help balance your

·         Strengthens cardio capacity – why Kenyans do so well, besides training at high altitude in the mountains, is this reason.  You find yourself having to really work on your breathing, even slowing down (which is a good thing) to catch your breath and lower your heart rate.  You can revert to poor training if you attack hills and don’t slow down/follow your heart rate.  Until your heart rate matches your flat land running pace/speed/rate, you MUST slow down on the hills and learn how to breathe more efficiently.

·         They create a strong mental attitude.  Conquering those hills will give you a lot of confidence and make those flat race courses soooooo much easier.  People who don’t train on hills are missing out on this extra component of their training and will be paying the price come race day.


In summary, here are the top three key components to keep in mind for successful hill running, thus creating much more ease when it comes to hill training

1.       Mental focus (Mind) – what you think will cause your body to follow.  If you say to yourself, “I love hills”, even though it may not altogether be true (i.e. faking it till you make it) your body might just eventually agree with you.   I used this mantra “I love hills” while biking/training for my Ironman Triathlon.  If I thought about how much the hill sucked, then they were super challenging and no fun at all!  Yet, if I screamed out (literally screamed audibly) that I loved hills, even saying “The hills are my friend”, then the workout became much more effortless over time.  Focus on the benefits of what the hills are doing for your body (strengthening, cardio conditioning, form) rather than the pain and you’ll become a more efficient, faster, healthier, overall balanced runner.  Hands down.

2.       Physical strength (Body)  -  look up – keep airway open for breathing, shorten stride, shorter steps, strike with heel first or midfoot – will depend on your mechanics as Rausch taught us, use arms to help propel you, run the hills down same as up or backward,  go slower, ok to walk

3.       Spiritual tenacity/will(Spirit)  - the will to win comes from this area of our lives.  I don’t know about you, but for me having something bigger than the hills for me to focus on keeps me going the distance.  No one succeeds alone and running with a teammate can help you forget the pain, as well as make the journey go faster, while you encourage one another to keep going.
I also like to think about another hill/mountain in my life that I have climbed/conquered before – or one that I am experiencing in the moment that I want to overcome.  I did my first marathon in memory of Mikey…..I could never give up because I had a bigger cause at stake.  Mikey didn’t conquer his “mountain” of cancer, but I could carry on for him.  Or maybe I was having a tough time with a relationship or my career – those hills/mountains became my friend because they were a metaphor for what I wanted to reach the “top” of in a true life experience. -
I think the Miley Cyrsu song, “The Climb”, says it best:   “It ain’t about how fast you get there, or what is waiting on the other side, it’s the climb!”

How true that is.


Enjoy the climb (a.k.a. running hills)!



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