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Hill training improves strength

Charlie Lincoln

Hills are one of the best kept training secrets and Tahoe is blessed with every size and shape. Running hills will make you a faster runner at all distances from the 5 kilometer up to ultra runs of 100 miles.

Specifically, hill running can increase leg strength, quicken your stride, enhance your running economy and prevent muscle soreness.

Running up hills forces the muscles in your feet, ankles, legs and hips to contract more powerfully than running on the flats. This translates directly into longer and quicker strides and more power.

Granted, this type of training can be accomplished in the gym with knee extensions, leg curls and squats, but they do not replicate the actual movements while running and are not as beneficial as actual hill training.

There are two types of hill work that you should focus on: hill repeats and long hilly runs. Repeats are great for building power and strength. My favorite hill for a repeat workout is the old Echo Grade off South Upper Truckee Road. It is steep, free of traffic and approximately two miles long. Always start by warming up for 10 to 20 minutes before doing repeats. Run fast uphill and slowly jog down for four or five repeats of 25 yards each. As your strength increases, you can increase the distance, the number of reps, and decrease your recovery time for that extra effort.

Long runs that incorporate rolling terrain or steep climbs will improve your aerobic capacity and resistance to fatigue. Attack the hills and try to carry your speed over the top. My favorite runs of this nature are up on the Rim Trail, but until the snow melts, I run a loop around North Upper Truckee, Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Sawmill Pond. This course has several small but steep hills and one long, steady climb.

When running uphill, lean slightly forward and into the hill. As you progress up the hill, keep your stride rate the same but shorten the length of your stride to prevent early burnout. This will help you maintain your speed, especially after cresting the hill where your stride should begin to lengthen.

Running down hills properly almost is as beneficial as running up. I stress the word “properly” because most runners do not spend enough time running downhill to do it properly. Two common mistakes are braking too hard and uncontrolled speed. Gravity will allow you to naturally accelerate on the downhills, but moderation is the key.

As you start a descent, keep your stride short and increase the turnover. As your speed increases, lengthen your stride but not so much that your feet are slapping and you feel out of control. Running as fast as possible on the downhills will burn out our quadriceps in no time, so stay as relaxed as possible and try to keep your body upright. Do not lean forward or back but stay perpendicular to the slope.

On really steep slopes, I literally ski down them, using short, controlled checks to the right and left to slow down and stay under control. When you reach the bottom of the hill, use gravity for all it’s worth by holding your increased turnover rate and your longer stride for 20 to 30 seconds.

The greatest benefit associated with downhill running is the elimination of delayed muscle soreness. When you start downhill training, your quads and hamstrings will be sore, but as your legs become stronger, the soreness will go away and stay away, especially after a hard workout or a demanding race.

If you have questions about training, nutrition, shoes or anything else to do with running, stop by World’s Toughest Endurance Sports or call me at 542-6296. For those runners on-line, my e-mail address is Wtough@oakweb.com

Run long and keep smiling!


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