Don’t run for the hills the second I mention the H word … please! Hear me out. This is the third of eight tips in my series to help you improve your running. If you’re feeling a bit stale, have lost enthusiasm or just have some desire to up your running game a bit, but without anything too technical, then these are for you. I want to talk about running up and down hills. Steep hills, gentle hills, long hills, short hills, the lot! I’m also going to tell you why it’s worth it and give you a few things to try when you’ve actually made it to the hill.

Many runners love hills but I would say most that I speak to wince, grit their teeth and tell me they hate them. Are you someone that chooses run routes that specifically avoid hills? Is whether or not you enter a race dependent on the course gradient? Maybe you want to run hills but live in a very flat place? Let’s dive in.

The benefits of hill running

When I talk about hill running, I don’t mean running across mountains. It could be that but it could just as easily be the road outside your house that’s a bit steep. Any kind of up or down counts. So, what’s the big deal and why should we bother going through the pain of inclines?

Here are some of the benefits of running up hills:

Improves your VO2 max – this is essentially how much oxygen is being delivered to your muscles. Boosting this will increase your capacity for exercise and is a good marker of fitness. Read last week’s tip for more info on this.
Builds strength – Running up a hill requires more work from your powerful leg muscles including your quads, glutes and calves. It also requires you to pump your arms so it helps to build muscle there too.
Improves your speed – the improved VO2 max and the more powerful muscles mean that when you run on the flat you’ll be able to run faster. This is fun!
Builds endurance – sitting in that zone of discomfort (check back to last week’s blog) helps to improve your endurance. Including hills in your marathon training plan for example will really benefit you when you reach 20 miles and need that extra endurance to get through the last 6.2 miles.
Gives you confidence – seeing a hill and knowing you can get up it makes you feel great. Overcoming some of the fear of running fast downhill boosts your self belief. Hills are challenging and tackling them can make you mentally stronger and able to cope when things get tough in running and life.
Opens your world – just think how much more you can explore if you don’t mind a hill. Whether that’s on road or trail, an easy run or a race, there are so many more adventures to be had if you don’t have to stay on the flat.

How to include hills in your running

OK, so now you’re convinced and want to try adding some hill work into your week. What do you actually do? There are lots of ways you can use hills in your training. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Choose a route that includes some ups and downs and just take the hills as they come. Don’t over think it, just increase and decrease your pace as you feel you need to. It is OK to walk when you need to you know!
  2. Find a fairly steep hill that takes you about 30 seconds to run up. Warm up well on the flat then run up the hill as fast as you can, pumping your arms and really putting in some effort. Run or walk down very slowly. Repeat this as many times as you feel you can.
  3. Find a more gradual hill that takes you about 60 seconds to run up. Try to run up and down at the same pace. This will be a much easier pace than the steep hill session above. Make sure you can speak a few words out loud as you run. Run three ups and downs and then have a breather or a walk for a few minutes. Repeat this once or twice more.

Hills are a really efficient and powerful way to improve your running. Yes, they’re hard but they’re definitely worth it. I can’t remember where I read it or who said it but I once heard hills described as ‘mounds of opportunity’. I love that. I’ll still swear when I do them but they are a gift. Have a go and let me know how you get on.

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