Running Questions – How Do You Run Hills? – Marathon – Ultra Marathon – Racing


Since my post on Running Hills, I received numerous questions on the topic.  To answer the most popular question, I decide another hill post was warranted.

Running Questions – How Do You Run Hills?

If you run long enough, if you enter enough races sooner or later you will be forced to run hills.  Over the course of countless hours logging miles on the road and trails, I’ve seen my fair share of challenging inclines.  How you see the hill and how you adjust your running pace and stride determines (in my opinion) whether you’re successful or if the hills will get the better of you.  I have three keys when facing a challenging hill: I adjust my mental attitude, I concentrate on my form, and I shift down to a lower gear.

I adjust my mental attitude:  Over time I have learned that attacking the hill might sound good in the moment, but it often leaves your power reserves drained and the hill winning the battle.  Now when I know I’m approaching an incline my goal is to maintain an even pace and conserve my energy use while climbing.  The hill is no longer a place to try and pass another runner, make up ground or accelerate.  I’ve learned over the years that if I can keep a steady and even pace, I will by default (as other runners slow or blow up on the hill) make up ground on the field.  I mentally accept that a slow and steady pace is the equivalent of speeding up and in turn a win.

I concentrate on my form:  The incline of the rising terrain is enough of a challenge; I do not need my running form to fall apart to add to the extra burden.  As the road or trail in front of me begins to increase I concentrate on staying upright as I run with just a slight lean into the hill from the hips.  I have and many runners make the mistake of leaning too far forward and or hunching over into the hill.  Running up right and landing on my forefeet provides a healthy spring into the next stride and makes the most of the energy used to propel me forward.  I try to maintain a healthy arm swing and keep my head up, this maintains a powerful position as I make my way up the hill and to a faster finish.

I shift down to a lower gear:  The hill is a challenge, there is no way around it. Unless your an better than average runner, you (I) should not try to run at the same pace while climbing the rising slope.  Accepting that I can’t keep up the same pace, I also don’t want to slow down too much trying to maintain the same stride length.  Much the same way a diesel truck driver downshifts to keep his rig going up a long incline, I down shift into a shorter stride so that I can maintain a consistent leg turnover as I scale to the summit.  This shorter stride saves energy, keeps my legs in their power zone and maintains some pop in my legs all the way up the incline and into the down slope.

Running hills in training and on race day will make you a better runner and if done correctly will provide a better race day finish.  Having a plan to conquer the hill will likewise help you win the war against the inclined road or trail.  Adjust your mental attitude, concentrate on your form and shift down to a lower gear and you will find success on the hills.

Check out my other Running Questions posts on Hydration, and Staying Motivated.

Do you have a running question?  Shot me an email or leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to give you my thoughts.


  • RunJenny

    Good post – I am adding some hill workouts to my training this cycle. They have been kicking my butt in races this year!

    • Brian Burk

      Thanks for reading…hills can be a love and hate relationship.

      Brian

  • Hard during training, easy during races :)

    • Brian Burk

      Great advice….

      Brian