If running hills is a struggle for you, you are not alone! Hills are a struggle for many runners. Both uphill and downhill can cause increased fatigue, increased exertion, and pain. All these issues can be reduced if we run hills differently.
Ultimately, if we run the hills properly to minimize these issues, we are also able to run more efficiently — meaning we can run longer and faster!
So, what does this look like exactly?
When running on level surfaces, we either heel strike or midfoot strike. As distance runners, rarely will you land on the ball of the foot unless sprinting at the finish. Regardless of how you land, your heel will still make contact with the ground, even if just for a fraction of a second. Those are typical mechanics of the running technique.
When running uphill, what the foot does on the ground must change slightly. You want to land on the front of your foot, keeping the heel off the ground. This will allow you to have a slight upward propulsion that is required to ascend a hill. The amount you need to be on the front of the foot and dig in will increase based on the degree of incline.
Along with being on the front of the foot, a good mental trick is to stare down at the ground during the length of the hill. Looking at the ground is something I only suggest when running up hills, not on level surfaces or downhills. If your eyes don’t see the degree of the incline or the length of the hill, your body won’t notice it as much and you will be able climb it easier. It’s a mind trick, but it works!
When running downhill, we can use the power of gravity. It is best to let your body relax and allow gravity to take you down the hill. All you need to do is keep your legs moving in order to avoid falling down the hill. We can almost use the downhills as a recovery period for our legs.
The more you attempt to control your speed going downhill, the more you are working the muscles in your legs, the more energy you are expending, and the more force you are putting on your knees, lower legs, and ankles, all of which create inefficient running and can result in pain.
Test out these strategies next time you are running hills and see what difference you notice with energy, efficiency, and pain issues. My guess is you will notice a significant difference in how you feel running hills.