Tips for tackling hills

Competed in my second half marathon this past weekend.  Covering those 13.1 miles were just as hard as I remembered them being the first time, except this time around I had the added pleasure of tackling 4 monster hills (well, actually 2, but we ran them twice since the course was a loop).  As I chugged up the hills, I noticed many of my fellow runners took the climb as a walking break and I don’t blame them.  Hills are tough, especially if you haven’t trained for them, but you can conquer them, the trick is…you have to not think like a runner. 

It’s instinctive for a runner to lean into a hill while trying to run up one.  We think that by throwing our weight forward we’re somehow helping to propel ourselves forward, but we’re actually making it harder.  When you lean forward, you force your quads to do all the work, not to mention you’re putting a lot of pressure on your knees.  Meanwhile, your other leg muscles (your gluteus maximus and hamstrings) are just along for the ride.  Considering your butt is your body’s biggest muscle, it would make sense to use it, right?  That’s why I suggest you think like a cyclist.

The next time you’re faced with a hill, keep your upper body upright and lean back…using your hamstrings and butt to keep moving.  The sensation is the same as sitting back in the saddle when riding a bike up a hill.  You’ll find if you do this, you’ll get up those hills faster and you’ll be less tired once you reach the top because you’re exerting less effort by using those bigger muscles.

Another technique you can take from cyclists is to power through the downhills.  It’s easy to ease up on your pace when you don’t have to work too hard, but maintaining a steady pace, even speeding it up a bit, while running downhill will help to make up the time spent on walking breaks.

Oh and there’s one more biker trick I want to share.  If you find your knees/hips hurt during a run, it’s probably because you aren’t aligned properly.  To keep everything where it should be (and minimize injury), concentrate on keeping your knees forward as you run.  Imagine you have headlights strapped to your knee caps and focus on illuminating the path right in front of you. 

Just so you know, all these tips helped me turn in a decent time of 2:41:25 on Sunday.  That averages out to about a 12:20 mile.  I may not be fast, but I finished!

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