This Week’s Running Challenge: Hills

This Week’s Running Challenge: Hills

Even if you live in a hilly place, you may find yourself avoiding hills when you run. They slow down your pace as reported by running apps. They also just feel really hard.

But there are two reasons to run them. One is that, sooner or later, you’ll have to run a hill. You’ll agree to join a friend for a charity 5K and, bam, there it will be in the first kilometre. Or maybe you have a goal of running a marathon. Unless you live in (or travel to) Cleveland, you’ll probably have to contend with a few hills in your hometown race.

Practise running hills, and you’ll learn the physical and mental tricks that let you face them down with confidence.

The other is that they make you stronger. You have to pick up your knees a bit higher to run uphill, and you have to push harder to work against gravity. This means hill runs are really strength training sessions in disguise.

This week, find a hill and turn it into a workout. Start with 1.5-3km or so on the flat, to warm up, and then spend some or all of the rest of your running time on a hill workout such as one of these:

Option 1: The Hill Sprint

All-out sprints are great training for your muscles and lungs, but you have to keep them short. Pick a hill — I like to pick one that is monstrously steep — and run up it, as hard as you can, for 10 seconds. Or 30 seconds, if you prefer, on a normal-steep hill. These sprints are meant to be as short as possible, because they’re super hard.

After each one, give yourself a good couple of minutes to recover. And don’t expect to do too many your first time: Try four and see if you’re sore the next day. Later, you can try more.

Option 2: The Long Slog

If you’ll have long, slow hills in your race, try this. Find a hill that’s nice and long — 800m or 400m — and that’s a little steeper than the one you’re afraid of. I have a favourite trail that climbs over 60m in a little under 800m, making it somewhere around a 10 per cent grade.

Then, just jog up the whole thing. Your goal is to keep your effort at a steady level as you go. If you’re not used to hills, this might mean alternating a slow jog with a fast walk.

As you get better, pick an effort level and just try to maintain it. “This should feel like I’m running a 5K race,” you might say. Or if you really want to focus on staying relaxed, try to keep your effort the same as on your easy runs.

And by effort, I truly mean how the run feels. If you can reach the top of a hill no more exhausted than if you were running on the flat, then you’ve truly mastered the art of hill running.