For me, running uphill is the proverbial elephant in the room. I’d mostly like to pretend it’s not there and ignore it as long as possible. It’s a bit awkward and uncomfortable for me to acknowledge its existence, and thus have to deal with it. It’s not easy for me to face. Basically, I do not enjoy running hills. Hill workouts are never easy for me. After countless miles of training and many, many crossed finish lines, I still cringe when I see a course sprinkled with hill running. Especially if it’s hill repeats. However, I have learned that it is better to decide how to manage running uphill, than to avoid it. The 21 most challenging, most adventurous, and most rewarding courses on this planet contain hill running, and you do not want to miss out on those experiences. While running uphill may never come easy to you, and believe me, you are allowed to dread them, you can still find a way to conquer running hills with confidence, using these 7 simple, straightforward tips to confident hill running!
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Table of Contents
7 Steps to Successfully Running Uphill with Confidence
Running uphill is far from easy, but it is conquerable. And the feeling of reward from the top is unbeatable! Follow these 7 straightforward, simple steps to mastering hill running!
- #1: Use the Right Gear
- #2: Warm Up Before
- #3: Approach Running Uphill Differently Than Downhill
- #4: Don’t Forget to Breathe
- #5: Adjust Your Pace
- #6: Keep Your Head Up
- #7: Keep the Positive Talk Coming
#1: Treat Your Feet and Use the Right Gear
Your running performance is directly tied to what you have on your feet. It is possible to run hills without investing in a good running shoe, but you are guaranteed to run them better, more efficiently, and more comfortably if you take your shoe investment to heart. There are two types of running shoes you should be considering, depending on the type of surface and terrain your running takes you on:
A) Road Running Shoe: ideal for man-made/paved surfaces like roads, sidewalks, boardwalks, etc. A good road running shoe should perform an intricate balancing act between support, cushion, and weight. You need a supportive shoe, but one that is responsive and not overly rigid. You need a shoe with adequate cushion, but one that is not clunky, bulky, or heavy. My years of experience and trial and error have propelled one road running shoe to the top of my list!
- Grab the road running shoe that has carried me through hills from San Francisco to China’s Great Wall!
B) Trail Running Shoe: best for natural, inconsistent surfaces, like trails comprised of dirt, rocks, gravel, sand, tree roots, boulders, etc. Trail running shoes need to have all of the exact components of a running shoe listed above, with the additional element of added traction and grip, to keep you grounded through unpredictable and uneven terrain. You need to be able to trust that when your foot makes contact with the ground, your shoe will keep you there!
- Grab the trail running shoe that has carried me up hills from West Texas mountains to the frozen hill repeats of Greenland’s tundra!
In order to conquer those uncomfortable and grueling hill workouts, you are going to want to be at your most comfortable! This includes wearing the right fabrics that will effectively and quickly manage your perspiration and wick away moisture. As your intensity level increases on that uphill, wear the right fabrics that will respond immediately! Wool is hands down the best fabric for managing moisture, and as a bonus, it is an odor resistant fabric!
#2: Warm Up Before Running Uphill
You should warm up before a run, no matter what your course looks like. But especially if you know you are going to encounter hill running, or multiple challenging hill repeats. Make sure that you are loose and limber before approaching a big hill.
#3: Approach Running Uphill Differently Than Downhill
Normally, an ideal running stride should have you striking the ground midfoot, then rolling to the ball of the foot and pushing off, propelling you in a forward motion. When running uphill, you should adjust your approach by taking shorter strides that strike on the toes. This will give you a better angle and improved leverage for tackling hill running.
Insider Tip: So how do you adjust to running downhill after running uphill, you ask? Use the same rule of shorter strides, and make sure to not lean forward as you are running downhill. Maintain a slightly shorter stride and a slight lean back, until the terrain levels out at the bottom of the hill.
#4: Don’t Forget to Breathe While Running Hills
Running hills takes a lot of exertion, and focus. During your moments of intense focus and pushing yourself to your physical limits, it’s easy to sort of blank out on remembering to keep up the basics, like breathing! Do not forget to focus on breathing when hill running.
#5: Adjust Your Pace on Uphill Workouts
It is perfectly human to not be able to maintain your regular pace when running uphill. You know the mantra, quality is more important than quantity? It is similar when running hills.
The effort you put in is more important than you speed you accomplish it in. The speed will come later with time and practice – focus on the effort and technique initially. Adjust as necessary, and listen to your body. Slow down your pace, and take smaller strides. Keep moving, but know that it is ok to adjust your pace.
As you keep practicing those hill workouts, you will make gains in strength and performance. But it takes time and practice, so allow yourself that. It can be easy to feel defeated on hill running, but look for the small victories. And remind yourself what comes after the crest of that uphill.
#6: Keep Your Head Up Running Uphill
Keep your head up, literally and figuratively! Posture is important when running hills. Just like it is easy to become so focused that you forget to breathe, it is also easy to become so focused on running that hill, that your head might begin to drop. This posture actually decreases your energy flow, your posture, your mental mindset, and your ability to breathe effectively. So keep your head up on running uphills!
#7: Keep the Positive Talk Coming
Running is as much a mental game as it is a physical game. It is incredibly easy to give in to the temptation to postpone running hills, or postpone running altogether. Know that it is going to be tempting to give up in the middle of running uphill, or to avoid hill workouts completely. This is where a positive mental mindset comes into play.
Remind yourself that after this hill, there will be a downhill. Remind yourself that no hill lasts forever, and this one is only temporary. After all, you can do anything for 30 seconds, a minute, or however long it takes you to crest the top of your hill. Do not let the negative, self defeating talk sneak in. This takes practice, as much as any other aspect of running.
Remind yourself how running hills and practicing those hill workouts and hill repeats is improving you as a person. It takes determination, persistence, and grit. Those are definitely character qualities to feed and develop.
Finally, think about where mastering hill running can take you! The best destination races and extreme courses out there will likely include plenty of hill running. Before, what might have seemed out of your reach, will now be within your grasp!
You can take on the never-ending hills of San Francisco, or the tumultuous ups and downs of a prized mountainside trail race, or even the mind-blowing uphill grades and 5,000 steps to hoist over on the Great Wall Marathon!
So What’s Next?
Conquering hill running is just one important aspect of long distance running training. Now that you are on your way to tackling those uphills and hill repeats, are you ready to take on a half marathon or marathon?
RELATED: Once you conquer running hills, conquer another uphill running challenge – Tower Running Races!
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