Hills Made Easy

There’s a reason “Heartbreak Hill” has such an ominous name. At mile 20 of the Boston Marathon, right when many people are already feeling like they’re hitting “the wall,” comes the biggest hill on the course. And, yes, that hill has broken many hearts. A looming hill, long or steep or both, can be intimidating. You can lose energy just by anticipating the extra work.

Some runners, on the other hand, love running a good hill because of the great cardio workout it offers, but they end up wasting so much energy blasting uphill that they can burn through a significant amount their fuel. The pushing and pulling and straining are the perfect ingredients for muscle strain. And, what seems like the easy part, relaxed running downhill, is where the most impact happens and has the greatest potential for injury. For those of us who live in hilly areas, we can’t just go out and run without encountering some hills.

I Love Hill Running
I can feel my body shift into the uphill and downhill ChiRunning Focuses as my feet feel the changes underneath. As a matter of fact, I find flat running more difficult because the running is more repetitive and less challenging. I have spent a lot of time investigating how I can run hills more efficiently, have fun, and an make all of my hill running an asset when I’m racing. My number one secret is that I rest on the uphills and take full advantage of gravity on the downhills (while minimizing the impact, of course). 

To run hills well you first need the basic Form Focuses of ChiRunning as part of your tool kit. Don’t try to learn ChiRunning on hills. Learn the Form Focuses and the ChiRunning natural running form on the flats and then use them to make hills easy. When running hills you’re going to modify the Form Focuses and break a few ChiRunning rules. The trick is learning to rely more on your technique so that you can rely much less on muscle strength. It’s a great place to up the ante on your ChiRunning skills; practice your gears, feel your lean and let your pelvis rotate.

Uphill Focuses:

  • Shorten your stride and “shift” to a lower gear
  • Use your upper body by swinging your arms forward and up (rather than rearward)
  • Lean into the hill but don’t bend at the waist
  • Don’t step ahead of your hips – avoid “pulling” yourself up the hill with your legs
  • Relax – especially your lower legs – no pushing with your toes
  • Keep your heels down to avoid overusing your calves
  • Use the image of being a balloon floating up

Steep Uphill Focuses:

  • The Lateral Stride (there’s a great lesson on this in the new Hills and Trails DVD)
  • Use Granny gear – very, very short stride
  • Lean into the hill with the uphill shoulder
  • Walk when you need to

Downhill Focuses:

  • Focus on the movement of your lower body
  • Arms swing out the back
  • Let your pelvis rotate – legs swing out the back
  • Keep your cadence steady and let your stride length increase
  • Use your lean to regulate your speed – lean more or straighten up to increase or decrease your speed

Steep Downhill Focuses:

  • Arms relaxed at your side
  • Lower yourself down the hill with a heel-to-toe footstrike, in the grounding stance
  • Keep a short stride and allow your cadence to increase
  • Zigzag to reduce impact

You can view all of these Focuses in the ChiRunning DVD Hills Made Easy. If you love trail running, or are thinking of beginning running trails, the DVD Hills and Trails has all of the information about hill running along with lots of great information about trail running.

Next time you see a hill in the distance, rather than avoiding it, or letting it burn through your energy, you’ll feel a different kind of challenge. Use your skills and intelligence to get started running hills with ease and confidence.

Posted in Technique

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