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[Running Hills Series Part 2 ] Bumping up the hill skills

Welcome to part 2 of my 3-part series on hill running

Oh, I’m so excited you’re here for part 2! In case you missed it, here is part one. Let’s dive deeper into more practical tips to getting up and over those mental (and actual) hurdles.

Last week I did a myth-buster post where we chatted about how much we must love hills being trail runners and all. That was the myth part, obviously. The truth, as you might recall, was simply….hills happen in trail running. A lot. It’s the “what we gonna do about it” part that matters.

This week, let’s tackle a causality dilemma (I know, big word fanciness!) Don’t panic, you know this one… it’s just like, which came first, chicken or the egg?

In other words, if I love hills, will I get better at them? Or. If I get better at hills, will I learn to love them?

If you get better at something, you usually like it more

Think cooking and diving. Nobody likes burnt pancakes and belly-flops, right? Aha!

Ok, so in our quest to learn to love it, let’s start by getting better at it. (Running that is, not diving. Although, learning to fall is a good skill to have too, but I digress.)

Bumping up the hill skills

I did a podcast interview a while back with two amazing coaches, Jessica and Megan, from Hot Bird Running about running hills and using them in training. It was aptly named “I love hills/I hate hills.”  I’ve taken the best of their tips about hill running form and put them here so you can soak up the goodness. I also added the translation of those skills into running trail hills for us trail weirdos.

  • No slouching: Lean at the hips a bit into the hill, but don’t hunch at the shoulders. Try slouching in your chair right now, then sit up straight. What happens to your arms when you do that? They open out when you sit up, right? You’re gonna need those arms climbing hills. See the arm tip below.
  • Keep your eyes, head and chest up: Keeping a straighter line with your upper body is going to help with opening up your chest and increasing breathing space.  (Pssst, *giggle* breathing is super important!)
  • Drive those arms:  While keeping them at a 90 degree angle, use them to help with propulsion.  (If you need a visual for this one, check out this old timey toy commercial for arm action.) Engaging those arms it the effort is extra important for trail running because they are also used for balance as you negotiate obstacles on the climb up.
  • Lift your knees:  Focus on lifting rather than pushing into the hill. Lifting is also good because rocks and trail terrain! Sometimes with the unpredictability of trail debris, with twists and turns and sometimes banked hills, lifting your knees will help you “hop” up and over when you need to.
  • Take shorter strides: As the hill gets steeper, cut your stride length to keep your pace more consistent and conserve energy. Combining shorter strides with keeping your eyes up will help you negotiate changing terrain even better!

Also, think about your butt

This tip has been a huge hill-changer for me and comes from Hal Koerner in his book Field Guide to Ultrarunning. He talks about focusing on using different big muscle groups to help other big muscles rest as you’re running long distances and hills. Now, muscles never really get to “rest,” of course, but here’s the thing… If you think about your butt as you are climbing a hill, you’ll engage those muscles more and it will give your quads a break. Try it. It works.

What goes up, must come down

Next week I am going to share with you my personal secrets about downhill trail running form, which is just as important as nailing the climb. If you  haven’t learned to love running hills from last week’s tips and this here post, then learning how to nail the downhill will probably do the trick!

Before I end here though, I would love it if you shared your personal goal with hill running. Is it to get stronger? Nail a hilly race? Feel like a super hero? (Well, you’re already a super hero!) Let me know below!

4 thoughts on “[Running Hills Series Part 2 ] Bumping up the hill skills

  1. Hi Laura,
    I just love your articles and blog. You are an amazing writer, funny, real, and just pleasant to read. I am in the process of training on hills, for no other reason than to just get my butt out in the woods (not literally, I do bring TP!) . I love to hike, and I love running, and that’s what it feels like to me, a running hike. My personal goal is to run from Mt. Baldy trailhead (near home) to Spencer’s Butte and back. So I am doing short segments. After my weird health crisis 3 months ago, I am still working on building back some level of fitness. I am nowhere near where I was, but I banish any thoughts of giving up. Onward and upward, I say! and hills help me accomplish that. 🙂

  2. Yay, it’s Comeback Kathy! What an excellent goal. I hope I can be out there with you soon. Thanks so much for your kind note, girlfriend. A running hike, what an excellent way to look at it. Never give up!! xxoo ~Laura

  3. Brilliant! I love this Part 2. Upward and onward, I say! Squeeeeee! This written gem makes me want to run up a huge, steep hill right now! hoot hoot.

  4. Yes! Upward and onward. I’m going to use that as my uphill mantra next time I’m out there! Thanks for your notes of encouragement, Sarah! xo ~Laura

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