Why does hill running hurt so much? In part, because it takes more work. "You have to recruit more muscle fibers to get yourself up the hill, which causes those muscles to fatigue faster," says Carwyn Sharp, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise science at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Plus, when you're running on an incline, there's a shorter distance for your foot to fall before it hits the ground. That translates into less of an energy boost from the tendons, which you normally get when running on a flat surface, says Paul DeVita, Ph.D., a biomechanist at East Carolina University.
On the up side, hitting hills is hugely beneficial to runners. "Do it week after week, and your body begins to adapt to the stresses," says Sharp. "In other words, it gets stronger." Still, doing hill work is like eating Brussels sprouts. We know we should, but we don't really want to--is there anything worse than a set of Everest-like repeats on a sticky summer afternoon? While there's no way around the effort involved, a few adjustments to your workouts and your mental game can make hill running more tolerable--and maybe even more fun.
Do this workout with a bunch of runners of mixed ability, says Larry Indiviglia, a San Diego-based coach. Warm up, then assemble at the base of a hill. The slowest runner(s) start first. After 30 seconds, the second group charges up. Thirty seconds later, the third and fastest group takes off . The result? Everyone pushes it and works harder. "The slower people don't want to be passed," says Indiviglia. "The middle group feels the fast guys nipping at their heels. And the fast group doesn't want to be put in the unusual position of finishing last." Jog back down. Repeat four times.
Warm up on the treadmill at a zero incline. Then increase the incline by two levels every two minutes until you hit level 12. Run one to two minutes slower than your normal training pace. Descend in the same manner. "You learn how to handle the intensity of hills in a way that simulates the nature of terrain outdoors," says Liz Neporent, co-author of Fitness for Dummies.
Up and Down
Use this workout as an efficient strength-builder, says Sharp. Start at the base of a hill about 200 to 400 yards long, depending on your fitness. Run up it for 45 seconds (your intensity should be about a 7 on a 1-to- 10 scale). Jog back down for 30 seconds. Repeat three times. As you get stronger, increase the number of intervals up to eight and the length of intervals up to 75 seconds (maintain recovery time).