How many times has this happened to you? You’re out running for fitness or perhaps you’re training for an upcoming race and everything is going well. Then you see it up ahead: it’s a hill. It’s a BIG hill. You feel the pit in your stomach as you realize just how hard climbing that hill is going to be.
We’ve all been there and maybe you’ve even had that same thoughts that I’ve entertained from time to time: ‘maybe I should find a running route that is all flat!’ Well, before you give up running those hills, consider these benefits of uphill running.
Hill Training is Strength Training
When you run all the time on flat terrain, you will engage the same set of muscles in the same way. The continued use of the same muscles through the same range of motion over and over again may develop a type of muscle-memory that favors easy running.
When you incorporate hill training into your program, you will engage your muscles in a manner that is similar to gymnasium-based strength training. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves will become much stronger during hill training. And that muscle strength shows up as greater stored energy that helps you with distance and speed during all your runs. This benefit won’t show up in a training program that avoids hills.
Hill Training is Speed Training
When you run uphill, you develop the same muscles that you use in speed training. So, while you’re running uphill, you’re also developing the muscles that give you speed. Maybe you’re not a big fan of doing sprint intervals to get faster. In that case, you can go to the hills to find your speed work.
Hill Training is Confidence Training
I remember my first race that was over the half-marathon distance. It was a 30 km spring race that I was using as a training run on my way to the marathon. The part that I wasn’t sure about was that race’s ‘heartbreak hill.’ I’d heard about the hill: about a kilometer of steady uphill grade at about the 26 km mark. As this was my first run of this distance, I was unsure about my ability to tackle this hill.
When I came around the corner and could see the hill, I did not see a single person running. Everyone was walking the hill. My running mate & I looked at each other, smiled then leaned into the hill. We passed dozens of runners as we powered up the slope. I’m not saying the hill was easy, but it certainly wasn’t as tough as I’d imagined. When we reached the top of the hill we felt energized and strong and pushed through to finish the race feeling fabulous.
You see, we’d spent the previous 6 weeks training every week on a hill. That training prepared us for the challenge we felt on that kilometer long slope. I still remember that hill and that feeling. When I face a difficult challenge today, I can reflect on that moment and tell myself, ‘Look, if I could finish that hill, I’m sure I can take on this little thing.’ Train on hills and train your mind to turn mountains into molehills.
All Your Running Will Start to Feel Easier
As you build strength, speed and confidence, you will find all of your running feels easier to you. Part of that feeling is caused by the increased strength and speed in the physical muscles that propel you on your runs. Another part of that feeling results from the stronger mental muscles that arise from taking on hill training and winning.
It is a great feeling to face training or a race and know that you’ve tackled much more difficult things with success.
Next time you’re planning a training run, don’t avoid including hills on your route. Seek out hills, attack them with confidence and enjoy all the benefits that come from this type of training.
Jim Oldfield helps non-runners become runners. Like many, he was conditioned to believe he couldn’t run. Today, he runs for fitness and health and enjoys sharing the gifts of running with others. He writes about running for fitness, running for weight loss and running just to feel good.