How to Overcome Hill Running Problems

By Rick Morris

Hill running and hill training are one of the most efficient and effective workouts you can do. Hill running will improve your running strength, running power, running economy, lactate turn point and VO2 max. As great as hill workouts are they don’t come without their challenges. Do you need to overcome hill running problems?  Here are some common hill running and hill training problems and how to overcome them.

Struggling Up

The most common hill running challenge is simply getting up the hill. Hill training, especially steep hill running, isn’t easy. That’s one of the reasons it’s so effective. To make running up hill just a bit easier, try to shorten your stride and run with very quick, light steps. The steeper the hill, the more you should shorten your stride. Focus on maintaining the most efficient stride rate of 90 to 100 full strides per minute on all inclines.

Falling Down

What goes up must come down. Many runners tend to under estimate the difficulty of running downhill. It logically seems that running downhill would be easier since you’re not fighting against gravity. The truth is that downhill running is, in many ways, more difficult. It may seem like you’re not fighting gravity, but you really are – in the opposite direction. Just as gravity pushes against you when running uphill, it pulls you when running downhill. You fight that downhill pull with eccentric muscle contractions. To minimize the effect of those eccentric contractions and the additional stress placed on your knees and hips, be sure you are running with proper running mechanics. There is a strong tendency to “fight the hill” by over striding and landing heavily on your heels. Focus on maintaining a foot strike that is either flat footed or ball of foot first, directly under your center of gravity. Let gravity carry you down the hill while you just maintain a smooth cycling motion with your legs.

Shin Splints

A very common running injury that is either caused or aggravated by downhill running are shin splints.  Downhill running is a prime cause of shin splints because of the tendency to over stride when running downhill. Over striding down a hill places tons of stress on your ankle dorsi flexor muscles as well as the deep stabilizing muscles in your lower leg. You can avoid that excessive stress by running down hill with short, controlled strides and a foot strike that is directly under your center of gravity.

Speeding Up

It can be hard to maintain speed when running uphill, especially for beginning hill runners. Building your hill running speed is similar to building level terrain speed. One very good way to build uphill speed is to perform increasing pace hill sprints. Find a hill of moderate to steep incline that is around 200 meters in length. Begin running up the hill at a moderate pace and gradually increase your speed to as fast as possible for the last 20 meters. Jog down the hill for recovery and then repeat 4 to 12 times.

Pacing Problems

Racing on hills present both a challenge and an opportunity. It gives you the opportunity to catch, pass or pull away from other competitors that haven’t trained on hills. The challenge is to be able to maintain a quality pace without reaching a level of fatigue you may have problems recovering from. The trick is to run by intensity rather than actual pace. When you hit a long hill in a race, don’t try to maintain your race pace. Instead, focus on maintaining your race pace intensity. Run at what feels like your race pace on flat ground. You will be able to improve your position while maintaining a legitimate, reasonable and recoverable race pace.