How to Use Hills to Your Advantage on Race Day

There's a reason why many runners avoid hills like the plague. Hills are not easy. But with a little practice and a few simple adjustments, you might earn yourself a definite advantage in your next race. You might even seek out hills to climb. 

Master the Inclines

According to masters runner and coach Art Ives, the uphill portions of a race need to be strategically approached so that a runner does not wear himself out too early. It's important, he says, to understand the mechanics of the body during inclines.

More: Coach Jenny's Tips for Running Hills

"You are going to need to be a little upright," says Ives. "Your legs will swing forward, but the slope is going to take away a little bit of the swing space for your legs. You actually take a higher step with a very short stride."

Because uphill running can be demanding on the muscles, Ives suggests finding a rhythm. 

"Don't press very hard at all, specifically in the early stages of a race. You want to go up the hill without pulling at the backs of your legs," he says. 

Dive Into the Downhills

According to Ives, downhills are best mastered during training runs.

"In training, you can practice looking at downhills as flow points where you kind of flow forward like riding a wave," he says. "You'll want to learn to release your weight forward while keeping your center of gravity nice and low. You'll actually be able to accelerate without overstriding."

Because declines in elevation can put a lot of stress on bones, joints and muscles, Ives stresses the importance of not pounding the feet.

"Hold your alignment and stay self-contained in a downhill so you don't slide down in a way where you're taking a lot of impact in your quads," he says. "If you can do this, but at the same time increase your velocity, you can use the gravity of the downhill very much to your advantage."

Downhill performance is dictated by a runner's ability to use his/her center of gravity, Ives stresses.

More: Uphill and Downhill Technique for Runners

"It all has to do with your center of gravity," he says. "You need to learn to relax into the ground."

By working with his/her center of gravity, a runner will be able to float through downhill race portions with ease.

"All you have to do is really come forward and not let yourself back off," says Ives. "Really use the gravity that the downhill affords you."

Finish Strong

According to Ives, it's important to conserve energy so that a runner is able to finish strong during a race. 

"You always want to extend energy and use some power," he says, "but you still want to have some power left in your reserve. You want to get into the later stages of the race and feel like you're a factor."

When discussing the importance of conserving a little energy to be released in the later stages of the race, Ives uses a familiar fable to make his point.

"It's not quite the tortoise and hare, but a runner needs to relax until the right moment. Timing is everything in racing. You need to know what to do and when."

While maintaining proper form and tackling hills strategically early in the race is essential, Ives suggests runners can run harder on uphills at the end of a races, versus conserving energy on an uphill at the beginning of a race, if they're feeling up for it. 

"You can take more risks later in a race and sometimes throw caution to the wind," he says. "You won't need to gauge as much because, hopefully, you have the confidence from your training to know which risks you can take without wearing yourself out."

More: Hill Running Made Easy

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About the Author

Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke is an online video editor for Active.com. His favorite part of the job is covering inspiring races and athletes who push themselves to be the best they can be.

Michael Clarke is an online video editor for Active.com. His favorite part of the job is covering inspiring races and athletes who push themselves to be the best they can be.

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