Running Hills

Once upon a time, I ran hill repeats on a treadmill. I was interested in building strength, and I’d read that hills were the best way to do that. I programmed the treadmill to alternate between incline/slow and level/faster, two minutes at a time for 40 minutes. Unfortunately I left that job and lost access to that wonderfully programmable treadmill, so I had to come up with another plan. Most gym treadmills don’t offer much in the way of customization.

I live in a valley, so real hills aren’t difficult to come by. REAL hills. I was actually intimidated at first, because most of the hills near my house seemed like a much bigger deal than the treadmill. Real hills offer the advantage of coming downhill as well as going uphill, so it made sense to take advantage of what was so readily available. For several years now I’ve practiced my repeats on a hill that starts slowly, climbs steeply and then levels off near the top – it’s .7 mile one way.

I’m fascinated by the different experiences that can be had within a short span of time, running hills. I always keep Jeff Galloway’s advice in mind as I’m going up: baby steps. Keep the stride short enough so the effort expended is roughly the same as running on the flat. On this hill that’s not strictly possible – it’s pretty steep. I don’t try to run it quickly, but it gets difficult. The world contracts to a few houses at a time, and each repeat is a world unto itself. Once I turn around for the downhill stretch I can open up my stride and feel the breeze in my hair. I don’t let gravity take over completely, or I’ll end up with torn muscles. Still, it’s exhilarating at first, before my thighs begin to burn with the effort of holding myself back. Then I turn around again and it’s back up.

I tend to dread hill workouts going in, but I don’t think I appreciate anything more once I’m finished, and from moment to moment within the experience it’s the most varied experience physically and emotionally of any run I take. Plus, the benefits are always apparent once I see how much easier all of my other runs are.