Ready to Run? Learn to Love Hills

Hills kinda have a bad rep among runners. Something about gravity and sweatiness and REALLY HARD WORK! It’s true. Hills are not easy to run. But I love them anyway, and you can learn to love them, too.

“Love” is a relative term. You learn to love hills the same way you learn to love kale. You know it’s good for you. You know if you try it now and then you’ll get the results you want.

My journey to “love” started with my second 5k. I was new to running. I randomly picked a race, and when people started warning me about the hills, I shrugged it off like any clueless novice. I’d run a few mildly hilly training routes. I could do three miles without walking. How hard could it be?

I had no idea what I was in for

Two miles of hills! I huffed and puffed and almost made it to the top of the last hill before I had to walk. Almost. I felt a little defeated, because my goal was to run the whole race without walking.

*Cue the Rocky theme*

After that, I made it a point to run hills every single week until the course became easier. Not easy, but easier. I recently ran the Boilermaker 15k, which has more than its fair share of hilly goodness. Every time I reached the top of a hill, I felt like I’d overcome a challenge.

You, too, can embrace those inclines.

tips for making it to the top, don’t pass them up

You’ll get stronger! When you run up a hill, you use your muscles differently. Your leg muscles and your booty will get a better workout. Strengthening those muscles up the hills will help you run better when you’re back on lower ground.

AND faster! I will never win a race. But I do strive to improve my personal times. Run hills every week for a few months then sign up for a flat 5k. See what happens!

Tired of running the same flat routes? Or the treadmill? Hills present an opportunity to end the monotony of the same old route, same old terrain. Changing things up can help your mental game both on and off the road.

It’s a challenge! Think about how you feel when you overcome any challenge. It’s exhilarating! Satisfying! Maybe even a little exhausting. But you did it. Congratulations!

You can be THAT person! You know the person I’m talking about. The one who says “Bring it on!” when everyone else is groaning about hills. You may even inspire the look. Is it respect? Awe? Fear? I haven’t figured that out. Give it a try and let me know.

Tips to make the most of hills

Slow down! It takes more work to run up a hill than it does to run on a flat surface. Unless you’re speed training and your goal is to sprint uphill until you can sprint no more, slow down a little to avoid burning out. Try to keep a consistent level of effort throughout your run: this means a slower uphill pace.

Don’t look up! If you’re afraid of heights you’ve heard “Don’t look down.” Apply the opposite concept if you tend to think about how much further you have to go.

Watch your posture! Especially if “Don’t look up!” helps you get to the top. If you find yourself slouching forward or hunching your shoulders, your movements become less efficient and you end up making more work for yourself. Think about standing up straight and gravity will help you get the slight lean that will drive you forward with better form.

Run with friends! If you’re like me, running with a group will motivate you up the hills when giving up sounds like the better deal. Think of the stories that will come out of the shared experience: Remember that time we ran ten miles, uphill, both ways, in a blizzard? A little exaggeration never hurt anyone.

There’s no shame in walking! If running up hills isn’t your thing, you don’t have to avoid routes or races because they’re a little (or a lot) hilly. There’s no rule that says you have to RUN every step of the way anytime you lace up your running shoes. Do what feels right for you.

Have any other tips? A favorite hilly race? Maybe a favorite training hill? Share in the comments section below!

Rachel Dowling

Rachel Dowling

Rachel was born and raised in Western NY and currently calls Rochester's South Wedge neighborhood home. After a brief stint living in the Southern U.S., she’s pretty sure she’s a Rochester lifer. When she’s not chasing her toddler around, you’ll most likely find her running, practicing yoga, or otherwise finding a few moments of quiet sanity. Rachel works as an analyst on the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Customer Experience team.
Rachel Dowling

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3 thoughts on “Ready to Run? Learn to Love Hills

  1. Walter Plock says:

    Excellent advice. Attitude is everything. When I bike up hill, I think of Lance Armstrong and try to only climb the hill once instead of the multiple imaginary times in my mind.

  2. Jolene Nonemaker says:

    What a great article! I include hill training every week as well. It comes with a lot of self talk to get myself up each hill, but the rewards are worth every painful step. One of the things that works for me is to give myself walking outs, such as, “You can walk at that next light post or that third mailbox.” Then when I get to that light post or mailbox, I am usually still able to run, so I set new ones. Also, practicing control on the downhill is equally important in hill training. Happy Running!

  3. Andrea Gillespie says:

    What a great article with some good tips for hills. I am going to think about these next time I tackle the dreaded hill at Cobbs Hill Park in Rochester!

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