I am one of those runners who does not like hills. I am actually one of those people who suspects no one in their right might could possibly enjoy running uphill.
The problem is that most races have hills, and as I found out last year, if you don't train for the hills, they will destroy your time and your enjoyment of the overall race.
Last year I volunteered (in a moment of overconfidence) to run the toughest leg of the Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back. It's called Ragnar, which refers to some mythological guy with divine ancestry, who is courageous and strong and favored by the gods.
Ragnar is four miles of a 7.9 percent grade that takes a runner up the mountain pass from Midway to Park City. In four miles you gain 1,678 feet.
I did not feel favored by the gods as I made my way up this hill (on one hour of sleep at Wasatch Junior High). It is the first time, in any race, that I thought about quitting. Unfortunately for me, in order to quit, I had to get to my teammates who were at the top of the mountain.
In the June heat, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I did find it was easier to continue running, even at a snail's pace, rather than stopping to walk and then trying to get up to anywhere near my normal pace.
It was excruciating, and I realized then that cheating in your training will eventually catch up with you.
I was running a lot before last year's Wasatch Back, so I felt confident. But the way I trained for hills only helped me in one way leg strength. My novice idea was to lift a lot of leg weights and twice a week do 20 minutes on the stair climber and 20 to 30 minutes on the bike.
My legs were extremely strong, but as I've learned working with Neil Anderson this year and researching hill training on my own, having the muscle to get up the hill is only one small part of a successful equation.
Here is one simple truth we hill-haters just have to accept: The only way to get better at running hills is to actually run them. And that means on a regular basis.
Running hills is a lot like running sprints. It allows you to increase your aerobic capacity while it also increases your stamina. So not only can you get up the hill, you can run faster and farther and you'll feel better on the flats.
One article I read actually said consistently training hills will also help you relax as a runner. I'm not sure how that works, but you definitely focus when you're struggling to get up a hill. It's all about you, your breathing, your mechanics and getting to the top.
Some physical and mental tips from various sources that I have found work for me:
1. Find small milestones along the way. Don't took at the top of the mountain all the time. I think it's important to keep your head up, your shoulders back and keep yourself focused on reaching different markers. The temptation is to lean into the hill, but I have found this hurts my lower back and sometimes my ankles.
2. It also helps me to use my arms more. Momentum is part of getting up that hill, and upper body movement helps me.
3. I choose milestones and then I run that stretch for someone who inspires me or someone I don't want to disappoint. When I say I'm running the next 200 yards for my mom, I'm definitely not going to quit.
4. I focus on my breath. Just like in yoga, your breathing can bring you peace, strength and power. So when I make sure my breathing is deep and even, rather than the panicked, short and shallow, I find I have the lungs to get up the hill.
Now, how to train.
Neil recommended interval training and, though I have only done it once, it does seem to help the next time you run.
Choose a hill that will take 30 seconds or so to get to the top. It helps to be able to run through the finish, so running a really long hill and timing yourself, I think, is a little less effective. You choose the number of intervals based on your training/fitness level. I managed four at this point. Run as fast as you can up the hill, through the finish and then walk down the hill and do it again. As you get better, run more and longer hills.
Because training is so individual, you have to decide how often you should train hills. Some of that likely depends on what race or races you're training to run. I am going to try to train hills once every two weeks.
I have also added once a week yoga to my cross training, and it has helped significantly with stiffness after longer runs. It's also helping me build shoulder strength.I look at training hills the way I look at upper body workouts it's 30 minutes of something I don't really like that will help me enjoy something I really love (running) even more.
Next: How to plan/execute those longer runs