I Love Running Uphill (Why You Should Too)

November 21, 2011

“Hills are speedwork in disguise.”
-Frank Shorter

If you can’t bear to look at a race training plan with hill workouts, or find yourself avoiding local loops that you know are not totally flat, stop making excuses. Hill running is all sorts of important and I think it is time we stopped complaining. At the very least runners need to view hills similarly to how we ask kids to act towards Brussels sprouts, a necessary but valuable evil. So whether or not you are training for a race, these are a few good reasons why every runner should rethink their gradient grouchiness.

Practice like you play

How many times have you heard a runner blame poor performance on a hilly course, or complained of that yourself? We have all done that at some point. But then look back to your training and how many specific hill repeats did you do? Even in some of my preferred training plans there are scarce hill workouts. This is not to say that the novice runner needs to start scheduling mountain runs every third day, just keep it in mind if you are training for a race. So let us not take the topography of a race for granted and be prepared for some bumpy runs. Find a nearby hill that challenges you, run hard up and then jog back down for recovery. Rinse and repeat. If you have an upcoming local race, go out to the course and do the same thing. You will be better off and not surprised when you get there on race day.

Win the mental game

Preparing for the Boston Marathon (with a charity number) many moons ago I experienced sporadic knee problems leading up to the race. Not allowing some minor aches to prevent me from attempting my first marathon, I made my way to Hopkinton with some trepidation. It was not more than one-third of the way into the race when pain forced me down to a walk. Fortunately, several miles later a friend’s dad, whose office was located right on the course, went inside and found some ibuprofen. Because of him I was able to finish the race.

Even small hills can be daunting

After a while of moderately paced walking, my knee started improving. When I was finally able to run again I found myself deep in the heart of that infamous, nearly four mile stretch of Newton hills. Though at this point I had been walking quite a bit. Releasing all the pent up energy from not running the whole distance, I felt like a champ cresting Heartbreak Hill and passed countless competitors on the way who had slowed considerably. This boost gave me the drive to keep going and finish the race.

Running is very much a mental game. So if you can plan ahead to have that kind of energy on big hills, maintaining an even pace is sure to net you plenty of psychological points. It may also provide a bump up on that age-group score sheet.

Head up on the hills

Keeping your head up on the hills was advice I received once on a group run from a running buddy who clearly saw me slacking. I used to actually convince myself to look at my shoelaces on hills so I wouldn’t know how much I had left until the top. But that is so counterproductive! Obviously every step is that much closer to the end, so why not watch the course decrease in front of your eyes? Additionally, keeping your head raised will improve your form and increase your lung capacity and efficiency.

Not everyone is built to be a runner

During a recent conversation about running, a friend whom I also respect as a personal trainer offered up the comment that “not everyone was built to be a runner.” I balked without a reasonable response, but knew that sounded off. Thinking about it more, I realized she is probably correct, but with one important caveat. Not everyone is built to be the same kind of runner. For instance, you can’t compare Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to U.S. marathoner and Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, but they are both runners at the top of their respective distances. Likewise, go outside to watch a marathon these days and you will certainly notice a variety of people, body types, and running gaits. They are all still runners at various skill levels.

To maximize potential, we all need to embrace the type of runner we were built to be. I am certainly no speedster, but know that I have strong legs. Every time I am looking upward at the road ahead of me, I let the tree trunks I call legs do the work for me. If you do have the skinny or long legged frame then use a quick pace to carry you up faster. Either way, practice hard and enjoy the benefits.

Work the buns

For a few months when I was new to town, I ran with a female co-worker who would always want to find hills because she said it helped tone the butt. I am not going to research the claim one bit, but just repeat it and say, why not?!

Increase the inclines

Hopefully you can relate to some, if not all, of my reasons to actually embrace hill running. Is it going to always be fun? Of course not. But will you benefit in more ways than one from doing so? Even though I am not a professional, I can almost guarantee it. Just make sure you do it smart and know your own limits. So befriend that incline button on the treadmill, find a rolling trail nearby, or do repeats up the grassy knoll at the park and get ready to hit those hills hard. Go! Go! Go!



  1. Happen to be trying to find this and learned much more than anticipated in this article. Thanks.

  2. […] Post navigation ← Previous […]

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