How to Kill a Hill (with Proper Form)

3 Apr

I’m just going to go ahead and call these posts “The Hills Series”.

From the moment I decided to sign up for the Jog4Jugs half marathon, I’ve heard about how challenging the course is. Oh you know, just from the race website, previous runners and spectators, and rumors. I’m expecting it to be uphill both ways.

All I can think is, hills hills HILLS! 


If I’m going to survive this race, I’ve got to focus on mixing distance buildup with hill training. This week, I scouted out a hill and made a plan of attack. I took a photo of the actual hill, but for some reason it didn’t look so impressive in picture form. Trust me, it was plenty steep.

At the time I headed out for my run Monday night, there were 30mph wind gusts. Um, hello. Maybe I should have postponed these hill repeats? Well, like they say, you have to train for all weather conditions. Off I went.

I warmed up with a 2 mile run to the hill area and quick stretch, then got to work. I hit the hill 10x, using the downhill as recovery and then going right back up. (I had read a tip somewhere that said not to rest at the bottom between repeats.) After the last uphill, I went right into a stride and kept going on my way to finish out the run. After about a half mile I slowed down a little bit and finished out the run a little easier. I felt pretty windblown. Total mileage for the run was between 4.5 and 5 miles (precise, I know, but I forgot to check my Garmin again before heading off to work).

As I was powering up, I was trying to keep in mind proper hill running form to maximize efficiency. How you take on a hill can have a big impact on performance. Blasting through a hill with poor form can mean dead legs and hitting the wall hard. Here are some useful tips for killing those hills without killing your body:

Running Uphill

Keep your head and chest up with your eyes directly ahead. Bearing down with your eyes on the ground will waste energy.

Keep hands loose. No fists!

Push off and up with your legs, keeping your steps light and springy. Take shorter strides and land on your forefront.

Run the first two-thirds of the hill relaxed, then accelerate as you approach the top and carry your pace over the crest.

Visualize the crest of the hill about 20-30meters ahead of where it actually ends so you keep going once you get up and over.

Lean into the hill slightly at the hips, but keep your head and chest up.

Pump your arms forward and back to simulate a feeling of sprinting.

Plantar flex your foot at the ankle (see picture below).

Going Down

Lean forward slightly at the hips. Keep your body perpendicular to the hill.

Keep your chest and head up, eyes forward.

Relax your arms.

Land with your feet beneath you. Extending your stride too far will cause a heel-strike braking motion. Your stride will naturally extend somewhat depending on the grade of the hill.

Race Hills

Pacing during a hilly race is crucial for being able to get to the finish line without sapping all of your energy or ruining any time goals you’ve set. Getting up and over hills during a race is all about effort, not speed. (Write that down.) If you’re running at goal pace when you reach a hill, focus on maintaining that effort. Your pace will slow, but have no fear – you will get that time back on the downhill. At the crest, maintain the effort of your goal pace prior to taking on the hill. This will actually make you go faster than goal pace, especially if there’s a downhill after that crest.

Check out the full articles here and here to school yourself in hill running form. Then go get some hills!


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