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November 7, 1999
by Chris Graff - Asst. Coach
Many runners dread hills and do anything to exclude major inclines from their daily athletics. This is understandable, however it may not be the best strategy for several reasons.
First, most road or cross-country races have some kind of hill in them since the there are few places to run that are perfectly flat besides a track. A runner who has not prepared for the hills in the course will find him/herself at a decided disadvantage, because they have not built the muscles needed to conquer the hill and have not worked on running hills efficiently. One of two things is likely to happen. Either the unprepared runner will be passed going up the hill because he/she is struggling, or, the runner will strain to stay with the group going up the hill and find themselves exhausted at the top and, once again, will be passed. Since being passed is decidedly bad, this is an area for runners to work on.
The second reason for running hills is that the leg strength you gain from hill work will translate into speed on flatter courses. There is a saying that hills are speedwork in disguise. What is meant is that the exaggerated leg action that the body uses to climb a hill is the same type of motion that is used when we try to run quickly. Thus running up a hill at any speed builds the same muscles utilized in sprinting. However running up a hill causes less impact than sprinting does, which means there is less chance of getting injured on the uphill than on the flats.
So now that we know the importance of hill running, what should be done about it? First you can incorporate hills into your daily runs or especially into your long run of the week. This is a great way to get extra fitness without dedicating extra time to it. Second, you can find a hill near you that is between 100 and 800 meters long and run repeats up it. Run up the hill at a pace that leaves you tired but not exhausted at the top and then slowly jog down it for a rest. When you get to the bottom don't stop, just turn right back around and make it one continuous run. It is definitely advisable to find a soft surface to do your repeats on if possible. Either a dirt path or grass would be the best surfaces to run on. The soft surfaces provide for less impact on the tendons and bones, especially when you are jogging back down hill.
Hill training is something that all levels of runners can take advantage of since you get from it whatever you are able to put in, and nearly every elite athlete will tell you that regular hill running is an essential part of their program.