Running Form: The Key to Uphill Running

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Running uphill can be a real challenge – and it can also be a very positive experience. Recently I completed the Mt. Ashland Half Marathon which has an elevation increase of well over a mile and has almost no level or downhill sections.

To clarify what I mean by “running” when I talk about uphill running, I would like to emphasize that many times in a “running” race, it is to a runner’s advantage to walk parts of the uphills. As I noted in my recent article about a hilly, 50K trail run, the “marriage” between ChiRunning and ChiWalking can be highly efficient and successful whenever hills are involved. Consequently, prior to the race, I had been practicing my uphill running forms and building up a solid base of uphill running and walking at the local hills near where I live in Eugene, Oregon. I knew that I would need all of my uphill “bag of tricks” as the traditional running form focuses for “runnable” hills would not be enough in this event.

In light of the searing heat in the days before the race (temperatures reached 107 degrees at times), the 250 of us were happy to take off running at 7:30 a.m. when it was still refreshingly cool. Off we went, cameras flashing and supporters cheering us on. Little did I know that I was about to be tested with one of the most challenging and tiring athletic undertakings I had ever experienced.

Although the early phase of the race was not as steep as the final phase, it wasn’t long before I found myself alternating between running and walking. If you have not yet taken a ChiRunning workshop or studied Danny’s ChiRunning DVD closely, my descriptions may not make a lot of sense but, hang in there; I’m sure you’ll get the idea. When I was able to comfortably run, I implemented the standard uphill focuses and running form adjustments – relaxing my legs (heels still down), reducing the length of my stride and focusing on my upper body as I increased my lean and the forward zip in my arm swing while reducing the angle of the swing at the elbow from 90 degrees towards 45 degrees so that my hands began to move in an upward, upper-cut like motion. In terms of my running “gears”, I down shifted to a lower one so that I could keep my steps short, stay close to my standard cadence (approximately 90) and keep my feet landing under my leading upper body. Essentially, I was leaning like 4th gear but my strides were more like 1st gear, effective team work between upper and lower body. Periodically, I also used the power of my pelvic rotation to assist in the uphill motion although that running form was constrained by the short stride length. Overall, I seemed to be able to keep my effort level fairly constant as I adjusted to the variations of grade of the uphill trail while minimizing any running pain – no pushing uphill as in power running – basically, I tried to ”fall” up the hills.

As we moved into the middle phase of the race, my ChiWalking identity began to take over as the major player in its collaboration with ChiRunning. It was not the case that the hills became so much steeper, but rather it seemed a rational strategy to conserve energy for the many miles ahead by ChiWalking at a fast pace rather than ChiRunning at a slow pace. That seemed to be the way I could cover the distance in the least time – and isn’t that one of the primary goals of a “race”! (to be continued…)


Posted in Technique

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