Many people dread hills when it comes to running–up is hard and down is painful. But they don’t have to be! In the last few years I’ve learned that I actually perform better on a hilly course than a flat one and that I prefer some curvature in my runs. For one, I often pass people going up hills that that’s always fun (hehe) but I also know that once I reach the top, I get to recover on the downhill, brining my heart rate back down and “resetting” my engine.
Here are some of the practices I use to get me up those hills:
Use you arms! We often forget that running is not just about our legs! That’s way too much pressure for any one set of limbs to handle. Give your arms a call and let them work. Pump them harder while at the same time engaging your core. You should instantly feel some of the strain coming off your legs.
Relax everything from the hips down. This one isn’t always easy but you’ve got to get friendly with your brain and ask so sweetly for it to send a message to your lower half to relax. Visualize (without closing your eyes, Crazy) that your hips, legs, and feet are all just hanging there, following your upper body up the hill.
Lean into the hill. The goal is to always be leaning slighly forward from the hips. There’s this thing called gravity and in some cases it actually works for us! If you’re leaning back, you’re working against it and let me tell you from experience, gravity is not exactly something you can beat. You’re just going to wear yourself out trying.
Shorten your stride. This is a little bit like downshifting. Shorten your steps and you’ll notice a huge difference as your climb the hill.
Repeat a mantra. Some of my favorites: On a shorter, steeper inclines I really engaged my arms and I say, “dig, dig, dig….” to the rhythm of my arm swing. On longer hills I say things like, “My legs are strong.”, “You’ve got this.” “You feel great!”, and a personal favorite of mine, “Melissa, You are such a BAMF! (Bad Ass Mother…you get the point.” )
Walk. I know, you’re pride might take a little hit but don’t even worry about it! Listen to your body. If your heart rate is ridiculously high (you don’t need a heart rate monitor to know this, you should be able to feel if your heart rate increases), slow it down even to a walk. Pick a spot ahead of you and tell yourself by the time you get there your breath and heart rate will be back in control and you can begin running again. Trust me, its okay to walk a little. You’re body will thank you for it later in the run with that extra boost of energy you saved. The next time you train on that hill, aim to get a little higher before you have to walk. Before you know it, you’ll be running the whole thing.
On the Downhill. You made it! You climbed that beast and now its time for a sweet reward–the downhill! Running downhill can be hard on the ol’ knees if you aren’t careful. Imagine all your energy is a few inches below your belly button, pull into it. Keep your focus these and allow gravity to do all the work! Trust me, if you can find a way to avoid pain on the down hills (using your core, keeping good alignment) you will absolutely LOVE the descent!