Monday, July 25, 2016

Marathon Training Tip #3: Tackle the Hills

Whether you are signed up for a hilly marathon like the Cape Cod Marathon or a super flat race with one epic hill like the Cape Cod Half, it’s important to incorporate hills into your training.

Cape Cod Marathon Elevation Profile

The benefits of hill training is simple.  Hills will make you stronger.  More specifically:

  • Improves muscle strength.  Running uphill will strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, calves and Achilles.  Your quads take over most of the workload on the downhill.  You also use a lot more upper body muscles running hills than running on flat roads.
  • Improves endurance.
  • Improves power as your muscles need to work harder to fight gravity.
  • Improves running form and promotes a more efficient stride.
  • Hills can often break up your rhythm.  Train on the hills to master a technique so there are no surprises on race day.  Most new runners will try to surge up a hill and then feel totally beat at the top.  The best advice I can give you is to not worry about your pace—focus on your effort.  Maintain your effort level on the way up and then allow gravity to carry you downhill.

Running Uphill

When you approach a hill, think about changing gears.  Your form will change and your pace may slow down but your effort levels should remain the same.

First, lean into the hill.  I’m talking about a hip hinge, good posture and no slouching.  With this you will be running more on your toes—that’s ok, forefoot running on hills is what we want!

Next, think about your arms.  You want to aim for a shorter, faster arm swing.  Faster arms translates into faster leg turnover.  Some coaches will talk about using “higher knees” on the hills but the Road Runners Club of America stresses that the focus should be on your arms and your legs will naturally do their job.

So if you are completely out of breath at the top of the hill, your effort levels are too high.  Try slowing down and finding the right speed to tackle the hills with ease.

Running Downhill

Downhill running can actually be harder than uphill running.  It pulls up a lot of strain on your quads and pressure on your hip and knee joints.

One big thing is that you always want to be in control on a downhill and accelerate gradually.  Your natural reaction will be to slow down and “put on the breaks” but that can put your knees at an even greater risk.  Instead, lean forward and allow gravity to carry you downhill.  Use short strides and keep your elbows tucked in.

How can you incorporate hills into your training plan?

Good luck out there!  Happy running!

Blog post by Jen Skiba.

About Coach Jen Skiba

Jen began her running career as a middle-distance runner for Falmouth High School and has been involved with the sport for over 12 years as a runner, official, race management, and coach.  A Mashpee Fitness trainer and Certified Running Coach through the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), Jen enjoys working with runners in the gym and on the roads. “Whether you are a beginner looking to get started running or at the intermediate level hoping to improve your times or tackle new distances, I can help you reach your goals!”

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