Dr. StrangeHills: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Incline.
Loath them or hate them, Hills are a staple part of most obstacle courses, and can give you an advantage, if approached smartly. In this article we'll give you plenty of tips of dealing with the ups and downs of hills, starting with the best bit...
Maintain a good upright posture. We often fall victim to hunching over, dropping the shoulders and shuffling up the hills with flat feet, but this has the unfortunate effect of making life much harder on the leg muscles. Running when bent over is hard work on the flat and doubly so on a hill. Stand up, and lean into the hill from your ankles not from your waist.
If you try to maintain your usual flat running stride length and speed you will soon become fatigued. Increase the speed of your legs and shorten your stride to keep a good rhythm and momentum. The steeper the hill, the shorter the stride. If it is super steep, and running becomes too much effort and too slow, then walk. Walking can offer a valuable rest and often you can find yourself walking just as fast other people are running.
Try to focus on the top of the hill rather than your feet. Our bodies have a tendency to follow our eyes, so if we look at the top of the hill it helps maintain our good straight running posture.
Hills can be a great opportunity to gain a few places or shake off any other runners that are on your shoulder. My personal favourite tactic is 'Cresting', keeping pace with the guy in front and then with 5 or 10 metres from the top of the hill push hard past the flagging runner and use the flat or downhill to recover. This will have the effect of crushing the soul of the other runner and put a nice smile on your face and spring in your step.
Pacing the hill is great for a simple steady tactic, no need for 'hell yeahs' and 'Aroos', just settle into a steady pace and knock the hill on the head without needing to stop half way or at the top. Keep quiet and freak out those around you with your robotic control and pain free climbing.
Mo-Farrah-mentum. Gain the advantage straight away, hit the base of the hill hard and fast, and use your momentum to carry you up the hill until you change to your increased cadence and shorter stride, this way you are 'one' to chase and beat.
Start by experimenting with some of the techniques and tactics and keep a diary. Not just your GPS log - write a couple of lines. For example "pushed hard in the final 10 meters of 'sheep shit' climb and used the downhill to recover, felt great and was recovered by the time I was back on the flat." This way you get a much better idea of what tactics and techniques suit your lungs and legs. This works well in conjunction with apps such as Strava, where you can use the 'segments' to keep track of actual times on these climb and recovery experiments.
Its pretty tempting to really open up your legs and bound down the hills in great leaps of gravity fuelled delight, but landing on your feet that are way out in front of your hips puts huge pressure on your legs and core muscles. It actually increases the amount of energy used, as you fight to stabilise and put the breaks on. So again, like running uphill, maintain a good upright posture and lean slightly forward from the ankles and increase your leg speed, rather than increasing your stride. This will get you down to the bottom of the hill safely, quickly and, most importantly, efficiently.
If you get your technique right you can whizz past others with your legs moving like humming bird's wings, whilst other runners are tiring themselves out galumphing downhill like Billy Elliot.
Know your legs. Practice you downhill technique at the beginning of your training runs and towards the end too, so you know how much speed you can put into fresh legs and what you can put them through after a long run too. Jelly legs + steep downhill = Spectacular UPD (UnPlannedDismount)
Know your hills
The Classic: Straight up and back down the other side. Perfect for the 'Cresting' manoeuvre.
Speed Bumps: Small sprint hills, usually part of a series or zig-zags. Pace yourself going up and legs like humming bird wings on the way down.
Eternal Hill-Climb of the Unscrupulous Mind: These are the hills that start steep and then taper off to an agonising long shallow climb. Pace yourself, grit your teeth and focus on how to build a chair. I find distraction a valuable tool when faced with a brutal slog-a-thon.
Downton Ably: These are what we all dream about, a gradual descent through a well drained ancient forest. The trail has gentle turns and soft pine needles to cushion our feet. The fallen trees are at the perfect height to vault and the bark is covered in a soft protective moss. The rich smells of millennia-old compost fills your lungs with endorphins and energy rich air. My advice here is run, run as fast as you can, overtake the unicorns and StormTroopers, as we all know this place doesn't exist.