Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tips for running hills

A key component to racing is to understand how to run up those hills.  I was very fortunate to work with Coach Ryan Knapp, the creator of Miles To Go Endurance.  He gave me great coaching advice going into races on how to handle the uphill portions of the race. Do NOT stress about the pace. If you try to maintain the same pace up a steep hill as you run the flats, then you are almost certainly setting yourself up to bonk  later in the race. You need to trust yourself, and be in tune with your effort.  Now I am not saying you need to walk/crawl up those hills. You will see the elite runners cruising uphill. They still follow this advice.  It is very smart race strategy to worry about effort.  Ask yourself: How does your breathing sound? Do my legs feel like they are working harder than they should? You want to be using the same effort throughout the whole race. If you can maintain a steady 8:00 mile on a flat, then you need to slow down when running up a hill.  The good news is, you can make up for it on any downhill. If you are running with the same effort downhill, that 8:00 pace effort will mostly likely switch to a 7:30 or so.
John Bozung

I had the opportunity to meet and chat with John Bozung right before I ran Utah Valley Marathon this past June.  This guy knows his stuff!  Such a friendly guy, and man does he have some good stories!  When he was 52 years old he decided to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks! He was the 2nd runner to ever run a marathon in all 7 continents.  He is 61 years young today, and just finished his 364th marathon. No, that is not a typo! He said the most important advice he could give me when racing a super hilly course, is to run the hills based on effort.  He warned me multiple times to not push myself to hard during the uphill. So if two knowledgeable runners and coaches were both telling me the same thing, then I was definitely going to take their advice.

What can you gain from pushing too hard uphill?

·         A higher concentration of lactic acid build up

·         Tax your maximum aerobic power

·         Fight to propel yourself forward while working against gravity

·         You will maybe save yourself a few extra seconds, but at what cost?

Running downhill is a whole other beast. You can make up some serious time downhill, but you have to be aware at what it is doing to your body. Downhill running is more strenuous on the legs. The extra pounding will pay a toll. If your body is not prepared for that pounding, it can increase your chance of an injury.  If you have a chance to run downhill on a more forgiving/softer surface, you can train those different muscles that will be used on race day.  Even if you are racing on pavement, it doesn’t hurt to practice running downhill on grass or dirt to avoid that harsh impact.

Jack Daniels (No, not THAT Jack Daniels!) the famous running coach Jack Daniels from Daniels Running Formula created a perfect “rule of thumb”. His rule states:  “Every percent gradient of incline (going uphill) will slow you by 12-15 seconds per mile, and every percent gradient of decline (going downhill) will aid you by 8 seconds per mile”.  Boston Marathon’s “Heartbreak Hill” is a 4.5% incline over 0.4 miles.  So mathematically, you can expect to be about 21-27 seconds slower.  Use this in your race planning if you have a finish time you want to hit.  Now Jack Daniels is a famous coach to world renowned athletes, and he was a former Olympian himself. We would all benefit if we take this awesome advice when planning how to attack our next hilly race! Once I learned how to race smarter, my times automatically started to get faster!

The best way to get better at running up & down hill is to train those hills!


  1. Thanks for sharing Michelle! 364 Marathons for John = Mind Blown!! That's just amazing! Thanks for reminding us runners to run hills based on effort!!

  2. Great post Mich! I'm bad at running hills. I'm the one who tries to maintain the flat pace up the hill and tell myself if I do that, then I'm banking the extra time I'm going down hill... plus, when I pass the people going uphill, it makes me feel fast! =).

  3. Loved reading this post Michelle! I try to do this naturally, and about 18 months ago stopped letting my watch tell me how I should feel! This falls right in line with that, so it's always nice to have reinforcement. Thanks for posting!!