Hills – The Training You Love to Hate

Hill training has a bad reputation. They are loathed by many a runner who would rather zip along on a flat surface than to face the challenge of a hill. Runners complain that hill training is too hard, that they are too sore afterwards, that it slows them down, etc., etc.

But hill training is an essential part of long distance training. You will likely never see a marathon, half-marathon, or even 10k without some sort of hill or incline in them. All sanctioned marathons that qualify as a Boston Marathon gateway race has to have a certain amount of elevation gain to them. Even the Des Moines IMT Marathon starts up a long hill and then into rolling hills before you ever reach the halfway point.

Tackling a hill does not have to be as daunting as it seems. You only need to prepare yourself physically and mentally to the challenge. Physically prepare yourself by adding some elevation gains in your daily runs. I like to switch between a few rolling hills along with some longer inclines, then on the next run find a bigger or steeper hill to work on. Build up your endurance to them and you will have them beat in no time.

Remember that it is ok to slow down going up hill in order to conserve energy. If you are running a 10 minute mile while on a flat area and you try to keep that 10 minute pace uphill, you will expend a lot of energy by attempting to maintain that pace. That is when you see runners throw up their arms in frustration and start walking. If you slow down, take your time, and stay steady, you will make it over the crest of the hill and your flat route pace will return … only it will feel like recovery! Pretty neat, isn’t it?

Everyone has their own way of mentally preparing to tackle a hill, so I will give you my way. You can try it or adapt it to fit your needs. First, I never look at the top of a hill. That only leads to the feeling of “I’ll never make it” which in it self spells defeat. I tip my head down (I wear a cap) and look approximately 5 feet past the bill of the cap. I will look up once and awhile periodically to make sure I am not going to run into someone.

While looking only a few feet ahead, I look for targets to pass. I tell myself “I have to make it to that mailbox” or “I have to make it to that telephone pole.” I keep breaking it into increments until I reach the top of the hill. That way I don’t get frustrated with the length of the hill at all.

I hope this helps you, and that the next time you run up on a hill you find a challenge waiting rather than a daunting or impossible task. Hills will make you stronger and quicker, so incorporating them into your weekly runs is a great idea.

Live healthy, be happy.


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