Sure, flat ground feels much easier. But you aren't helping your running.
Often we shy away from things that make running harder than it already is. Maybe it’s the wind or the weather, but most often it’s the terrain. We would rather run a flat, easy route than one that’s filled with hills. But learning to “embrace” the hill can actually yield huge benefits when it comes to your running.
Hidden Speedwork. Running uphill is a great way to build fitness without hitting the track. It increases your heart rate and requires similar effort as running intervals on the track or road. Yet your overall speed is slower, which can often protect you from an injury that can result from trying to run too fast, too soon. Hill repeats are a great way to build fitness at the beginning of a training cycle or after a time off from running. To get the benefits of a hill workout, find a short hill (about 200m in length and 50-100 feet in elevation gain). Run a one mile warm up then run 6 to 10 repeats of hard effort up the hill, focusing on form and powering up from hips and glutes. Jog or walk down the hill between each effort. Run a mile cool down.
Build Leg Strength. One of the hidden benefits of running hills is the leg strength it can develop. That strength will come in handy on race day when your body starts to break down from fatigue. Your form while running uphill should mimic that of running at top speed: erect, but not leaning forward, powering from the hips and pushing down through the balls of your feet to propel yourself up and forward. All too often when we hit a hill, we slump forward, lose our form and go from running to plodding. Shorten your steps, increase your cadence and keep you gaze towards the crest of the hill.
Confidence Boost. Running hills during training can give you the confidence to tackle any race course. Course descriptions can often be misleading and on race day “rolling hills” tend to look like mini mountains. But if you’ve been running hills in training you’ll have both the leg strength and the fitness to tackle hills during a race. You will also avoid the fatigue that often makes those rolling hills feel like so much worse.
On race day, approach a hill at your race pace and break the hill into thirds. Run the first third with the same or similar effort you have sustained in the race so far. In the second third your effort will increase and pace may slow. Instead of focusing on trying to maintain your pace, focus on a consistent effort and proper form. In the final third, as you approach the top of the hill, try to increase your effort slightly. As you finish the hill, run hard over the crest of the hill (when most people slow down) keeping your effort hard until you come back down the other side or the course flattens out. Breaking the hill into thirds, running hard over the crest and using the downhill as your recovery will help you tackle any incline on race day.
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