Running hills–both up and down–have numerous benefits for your training. They build strength, mental toughness and help improve your running form and efficiency.
They are said to be speed training in disguise because even though you’ll run slower than you would on even ground, your heart and lungs have to work just as hard to deliver oxygen. At the same time, the overall impact on your body–the muscles, joints and bones–is less than on flat ground which means your chances of injury are lower.
As hard as they are, hills should be a staple part of your running and training. Running a dedicated hill workout just once a week or doing a few easy runs (or even part of your long run) on a hilly route is an effective way to become a better, stronger runner.
When running (up) hills, your perceived effort is much more important than your pace. Forget the number on your watch and focus on your breathing, heart rate and form. Concentrate on keeping a relatively high cadence/turnover while trying to “stand tall” with a slight forward lean. Pump your arms and use them to create additional momentum. Try to pick up your pace/increase your effort as you run up the hill. Avoid starting too fast and then slowing down or having to stop. Some say it’s also better to look “into” the part of the hill that you’re running, rather than looking up at the top of the hill. Be sure to concentrate on the repeat your currently running and not dwell on any others to come.
Going down hills is equally challenging but for other reasons. Your pace will naturally pick up but the instinct is to use your quads to brake. This eccentric movement causes muscle damage and should be avoided. To do this, increase your cadence to match the changing pace and use your arms and upper body to keep balance. Find whatever combination/form works best for you.
Here is a sample six-week plan that includes two weekly hill workouts. In the case of the repeats, start with a short 5-15 minute warm-up of slow running before proceeding to the hill repeats. After each hill repeat, stop and walk to catch your breath then proceed to jog slowly back to the bottom of the hill to start the next. Conclude the workout by running a final 5-10 minute cool down. For the second, shorter workout, complete an easy run of 6-12K with the hill sprints either at the end of the run or as part of it in the final few K. If possible, run one additional run on a hilly route but do so at a relaxed, easy pace.