When I first started running, I mentioned a route I had mapped out to an experienced runner friend of mine.
"Ugh, that's a horrible run!" he said, grimacing. "It's so flat."
Uh, yeah. Why else did he think I was running it?
This was before my indoctrination to hill running as part of my training. If tempo runs are the gas in your car, hill runs are the bright red "power burst" button on your dashboard. I may not yet be at the point where I can call myself a hill aficionado, but I no longer look at them like I do poison ivy or men in madras shorts—as things to be avoided at all costs.
For anyone looking to become a stronger, faster runner with improved confidence and capability, hills are your new best friend.
The Physical Part
What other activity builds your quads and strengthens your hamstrings, calves, glutes, and cardiovascular system all at once? A few considerations to start you on the path to hill running:
Warm Up: Unless you're aiming for an injury, don't start a hill cold. Warm up with a 1-2 mile jog on a flat surface before going vertical.
Stay Loose: Running hills is not a battle. There's no need to charge them. Keep your shoulders low and loose and your posture upright (no bending over like you're looking for lost change).
Stride Right: Use a short, quick stride. In fact, the steeper the hill, the smaller the stride. You also want to try to keep a steady pace. This doesn't mean holding the pace you use on flat terrain. It means holding a steady effort. If you're gasping for air on a hill, you're going to hard. Pull it back.
What Goes Up Must Come Down: Runners moan about the uphill part but if you're not careful, the downhill run can cause injury. Again, find a rhythm. If you hear your feet pounding or slapping the pavement, try for a lighter landing. Don't go too slow though or you'll really feel it in your quads the next day.
The Mental Part
Here's where hill training pays off. Shortly after you start running hills don't be surprised to find yourself eyeing different stretches of road while in your car thinking, "I could run that."
Hill running builds a good sort of "bring it" arrogance. You'll really see the benefit in races. If the course is flat, you'll find your speed improved due to your hill training. And if it's hilly, you won't freak out coming around a corner to encounter a hill in front of you. While others may groan, you know you have the experience and skills to conquer it. As you start up, you may find yourself thinking, "I've run worse than this before."
If you're not good at hills, it's probably because you're not running of them. Start slow, on a course with gently rolling terrain. You can work up to hill repeats as you progress. Vary your hill runs, incorporating gentle, moderate, and steep inclines. Stay focused, stay fit… and up, up, up you will go!