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If you live in a relatively flat area, you may find hills quite intimidating. If you stick to your own tree-lined sidewalks and local trails or tracks you may never have to worry about hills, but if you want to compete in races you will have to train for the inevitable hills that will pop up on many courses. The following hill running tips will help you overcome the fear and tackle the ups and downs without losing time and messing up your pace.
Get Your Head on Straight
Your mental state can affect a lot of things and how you feel running up and down hills is one of them. If you look at an upcoming hill with fear and intimidation then you are going to struggle right from the start. Your mental energy can actually drain your physical energy because you have that negative or fearful attitude toward hills.
The solution is to tackle hills as frequently as possible during training and casual runs. The more exposure you have to hills and the more strategies you have to get through the more intense slopes, the less intimidating they will feel when you come up to them during a race.
Confront the fear now so you have positive energy pushing you along when they pop up during race terrain.
Slow Your Pace
Beginning hill runners often try to force their body to maintain the same pace going up a hill that they maintained on flat land. This happens in races when a beginning runner comes up to a hill they did not train to tackle. They don’t want to slow their pace, give up time, or admit defeat. So, they push forward and try to maintain that same flat land pace. The problem is this fatigues the body and makes for very sore muscles later on.
Experienced hill runners know that they have to let their pace slow a bit going up the hill. The body will still be giving maximum effort, but it won’t be overexerting itself to get up the hill. This leaves your muscles better prepared to handle the rest of the race with ease.
Watch Your Posture
You may have heard adults telling you over and over as a child to sit up straight and watch your posture. That is also good advice for running up and down hills. You should train your body to remain upright both up and down the hills. Keep your core muscles tight and hold your head up, allowing your shoulders to go back and your chest to remain upward.
Your body may try to roll forward when going up the hills and slightly backward when going down the hills. You should correct this and keep your body as upright as possible.
Control Stride Length
You want to keep a steady rhythm when running hills, but you have to create this rhythm with shorter strides. If you stretch your legs out reaching for more ground with each step you will feel your heart rate pick up as you exert too much energy and burnout. It is more efficient to shorten the stride going up the hill then allow speed to build as you go down the hill. You should still keep the stride shorter until you have finished your descent.
This shorter stride will help build a steady rhythm and will help you slow the pace so the body doesn’t overwork itself and leave you exhausted. Shorter strides also help keep a sense of control with each step when going down a large hill.
Keep the Downhill Rhythm
If you aren’t experienced with large hills, you may have a sense of free-falling that brings fear on the downhill. This is common for beginning runners or even experienced runners who haven’t done a lot of hill running in training. As understandable as the fear of that free feeling is, you have to stop yourself from constantly stopping yourself or slowing down then speeding up.
Remember, slower strides will help keep that sense of control so you don’t feel the need to constantly draw back and stop your body. Focus on the stride and control but keep that steady rhythm going throughout the entire downhill. Your muscles will thank you for this in the morning.
All of these hill running tips are much easier to embrace once you have used them a time or two. If you don’t have hills where you live but you know you need to master these concepts for upcoming races, either use the hill setting on a good treadmill or take some weekend trips to hilly areas. The more experience you have the better you will handle those hills without slowing your overall race pace.