Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Conquering Hills When You Run

Is Boston's Heartbreak Hill or Veyo starting to get you nervous?  Does the thought of running uphill get you down? If hill running is your weakness, you might like this tip by Danny Dreyer, author of Chi Running.  I tried it today and it seemed to really work.
A great run for any runner

Try running sideways! (Sounds weird, but read on).  Turn your hips to one side and run up the hill sideways.  Your feet will be doing a little crossover step, but your heels will be down, meaning that your Achilles tendons will not be overstretched and your calves won't be overworked.  I call it the lateral stride.  The beauty of this unconventional technique is that it engages your lateral muscles (side of leg).  These muscles are generally not used much when you're on level ground, so it's like having a fresh set of muscles helping you out.  When I start up a steep hill, I'll run with my boy turned about 45 degrees to one side for six to eight strides, then switch sides.  In this way, I allow my lateral leg muscles to alternate between running and resting by working one set of muscles and then the other.

Your arm swing will also be different on steep uphills.  When you turn your body to one side, your uphill arm will swing sideways relative to the slope of the hill, rendering it pretty useless.  Don't worry about it.  Just let it swing lightly and don't put a whole lot of work into it.  On the other hand, your downhill arm is aiming in the uphill direction, so let it swing fully across your body, reaching up for your opposite shoulder.  Remember, it's a steep hill, so shift to an even smaller gear.  And lean into the hill with your uphill shoulder -- as if you're trying to break down a door.  Hey, whatever image works...

I've heard many giggles from running-class participants when I mention going uphill sideways -- until they try it.  Then those giggles turn to laughter when they see how easy it is to run this way up a steep hill.  I've even had clients say that it was the single most important thing they learned, because they no longer have to limit themselves to flat running.  That alone is worth it.  

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