To conquer a hill during a marathon, you need more than just willpower. Sure, it can help you get to the top—but attacking a hill the wrong way can negatively affect your overall performance on race day.
In order to perfect hill running, especially in longer races like a marathon, it's important to be smart, use proper technique and approach each hill with a strategy. Incorporate these techniques and drills to keep hills from slowing you down.
"I have seen so many runners try to tackle hills on race day, and they end up wiping themselves out and crawling to the finish line," says Jenny Hadfield, running coach and author of Marathoning For Mortals.
Her advice? Keep energy management at the top of your list.
"Try to keep your effort level the same. In other words, slow your pace."
A heart rate monitor can be a good tool to manage your effort and make sure you don't have a spike when the road goes up.
It can also be equally important on the downhill, an aspect of hill running that runners often overlook.
In fact, to avoid over-stressing the muscles on a steep downhill, avoid the harshness of the impact by using a zigzag technique. This will help you run smoother and at a slower pace so you won't have to stop all of your momentum the way you would going down a steep decline running in a straight line.
More: Hill Running Made Easy
Have a Strategy
Every hill is different. So too is every race situation. To run hills correctly, it's important to have a strategy and listen to your body for advice.
"Many runners make the mistake of tuning out on hills and trying to run the same pace as the flat terrain," Hadfield says. "Or, they'll try to run hard on the way up and expend way too much energy—leading to a slowing of their pace or bonking later in the race. "
The key, she says, to running a hilly course successfully and earning a PR is to run by the effort on the way up. "Instead of trying to maintain a pace, listen to your breath, shorten your stride, and run at the same effort level as you would on the flat."
Scott Mason, a professional ultra and trail runner, recommends taking each hill one at a time. "You don't have to run up every hill," he told Park City Television. "A smart trail runner will only run a hill when it makes sense. If you're going up a hill and it's hard to run it, you should probably walk instead."