I don't know about you, but I'm originally from a part of the country where a hill is a yellow speed bump in a parking lot. Then I moved to northern Pennsylvania and good grief, did I learn what a hill was.
To be honest, it was not love at first sight. It still isn't, but I have changed my attitude, which has in turn caused my daily runs that have hills in them and my races to go better.
I was at my first race after I moved to the hilly region of the north. Just before the start, I noticed some people talking about the course. I heard mutters and complaints concerning the awful hills we were about to run up. Hmmm - I wondered, what was the big deal? I had just driven part of the course and didn't see any big problem with the hills. I thought the "rolling hills" I had seen were kind of pretty.
We all lined up and the starting gun went off. Away we went in a flash of enthusiasm. Then we rounded a corner and I saw it. The "HILL". Or rather I should say the "MOUNTAIN". Up and up it rose. As far as I could see. Oh no, I moaned inwardly. I was about to find out what hill running was really like this day!
All I can say is from that day on and for a long time after that, "hills" were not what I wanted to see in a race!
As time passed and my training progressed in the hilly area close to my home I did notice one part of the hill I really loved. The DOWN side!
I have strong knees, thank goodness, and running down the hill was my big reward for all the effort it took to get up the "monster."
In some races I would zoom past runners who were so slow on the downhill side it looked like they were braking. Wheee, that was fun! However those same runners often would regain the lost ground as soon as we would face an uphill part of the course.
Something had to change. But what? One day I was finally inspired. I'll make hills my "friend." I didn't realize how difficult that would be!
First the facts. Most of the races I run have hills. I love the downhill part. I lose ground on the uphill. So I needed to run faster on the uphill portion, right? Yep.
I started reading everything I could on hill running. I learned to look about 50 feet in front of me and make that my goal. Once there I would look ahead and repeat this. I also told myself "hills are my friends". Silly as it seems it began to work. I learned to maintain the same pace but shorten my stride on the hill. Previously I had gone slower and had lengthened my stride. Wrong approach.
I also learned to use my arms! I now keep them parallel to the plane of motion instead of swinging them across my body. I now maintain a steady stride until I get near the top then I pick up the pace. Mentally, I'm like Rocky in the movie after he runs up the steps. YEAHHHHH.
If the hill is steep I lean into it now. Remember, hills are our friends! I keep my head up. Even though I'm looking 50 feet ahead I only cast my eyes down. This is important so that I am able to get the oxygen I need.
The key to downhill running is to lean slightly into the downhill and allow gravity to assist you. Keep your head up. Keep your stride close to the ground. Do not over-stride. You should try to hit the ground lightly to minimize impact as much as possible. The key is control! If you go too fast you risk falling and injury. If you go too slowly you will lean back and start "braking". Try to stay as relaxed as possible.
I still love downhill running of course and my attitude has changed on running up hills.
Now when I'm at a race I remind myself that "hills are my friends". Both sides.
Has it made a difference? You bet. Sometimes I even pass people on the uphill.
Copyright Lynn Seely, Reprinted with permission.
Lynn Seely has been writing a weekly column on running for years and is known for her motivational written speeches and exceptional story telling ability. Her book, Running Forward ~ Looking Back, is a collection of true stories similar to the 'Chicken-Soup' series and was hailed as one of the best new running books of 2000. Seely has been published in many running publications such as Runner's World, Runner's Gazette, Footnotes, and in other publications such as Whispers From Heaven. Guidepost Books
Listening To The Animals features a collection of her true animal stories.
To read more of Lynn's writings visit her Running Site.