Truth be told running uphill never gets easier – you just get faster. But if you want the thrills and feeling of freedom from hurtling down a steep incline you have to climb mountains (or molehills) sometimes.
World and European mountain running medalist, Sarah Tunstall, and mountain ultra runner Natalie White are two athletes who know how to defy gravity.
Running form is very important when targeting uphill running and White adds: “In order to you keep upright during the incline, drive through your arms and don’t overreach your stride.” You can work on this in hill reps or every time you get to a hill, especially at the end of a long run.
Tunstall also emphasises the importance of the arms, saying: “Try to keep the arms pumping as they will drive your legs when you’re fatiguing.” There is more of a correlation between arm and leg movement than most expect.
The steeper the hill gets the more likely it may be more efficient to power hike up there so don’t be afraid to try walking to see if it makes things easier. It depends on the runner and some will run all the way to the top and others will actually hike up quicker. When an event gets longer then the efficiency of hiking becomes more important.
Train on different terrains and gradients
Get on all sorts of hills and work your way up them. Races have hills in all shapes and sizes so it is important to practice on a variety of terrains and gradients. Shorter hill reps will help with power and speed, whilst longer ones will raise lactate threshold and efficiency.
Before an event, Tunstall “likes to train on similar gradients and terrain to the race ahead” as they are all different and the more specific the training, the better. With a European Silver and a World Bronze this year alone, Sarah clearly knows what she’s talking about.
Ben Riddell, a coach for RunSmarter and someone who loves taking on the French Alps adds: “Try to look 10 metres ahead when running uphill – this will keep your hips in the right position and help push you up the incline.”
Another important aspect of uphill running is a strong core. When you’re driving uphill, as mentioned above, both the arms and legs are instrumental, so a strong core in between will allow you to achieve your best performance.
If you’re a mountain ultra runner you’re more likely to use poles (or cheat sticks as some are keen on calling them), but it’s not just something you can purchase and instantly see results.
Just like as you train your legs for endurance, your arms will need building up too as the repetitive action, if done properly, can be quite tiring. Actually, it should be tiring and if your arms aren’t tired you’re not using them properly.
Lastly, you have to learn to love the hills. Find a reason in every hill, you don’t have to love the uphill act itself, but the downhill to come, the view at the top or the satisfaction of another summit conquered. If you’re an ultra runner just see it as an uphill picnic. Find a reason to enjoy them and it all becomes a little bit easier.