CONQUERING THE CLIMB: 10 TIPS FOR BECOMING A BETTER UPHILL RUNNER
Updated: Feb 2
~ By Annie Bothma, January 2023
Are some runners just naturally good at uphill running or can you become a stronger uphill runner by working on your technique or changing your mindset? In this post, I will provide you with some of my personal tips to becoming a better uphill runner.
1. FAST FEET
I find that using, smaller fast steps when moving up, allows me to climb faster. Think powerful and forceful! Your cadence will naturally shorten when you are busy running uphill. However, try not be on your toes for too long, since that will put a lot of strain on your calves and shins. Instead, try using more powerful deliberate steps - making each one count!
2. LEAN INTO IT
When you run uphill the ideal posture is a slight-forward tilt. You should strive to maintain a strong core while leaning slightly forward with your upper-body and using your arms to drive you up the hill.
3. USE THE RIGHT MUSCLES
Think about what muscles should be working when you are running uphill and try focus on activating them when you start climbing up a hill. When you are running uphill, you want your glutes and hamstrings to fire and do most of the work. Remember, those calves and feet will also be doing a lot of work when you are climbing, so don't be surprised if they are tight the next day after a hilly run or a hill-repeat workout!
4. DON'T FORGET ABOUT YOUR ARMS
Use your arms to power you up the hill. The 9-time winner of the Comrades Marathon, Bruce Fordyce, claimed that the year he ran his best Comrades, was the year he added an upper-body to his strength routine to his training program. Let those arms help your tired legs a bit next time you are running up a hill!
5. DON'T LOOK TOO FAR AHEAD
Don't look up and get overwhelmed by how far you still have left to go. Instead, focus on the progress you have already made up the hill. Keep your head where your feet are at! Staying present is key to success when it comes to distance running!
6. MAINTAIN MOTIVATION WITH GOOD MANTRAS
Some of my favorite mantras when running uphill include: "LEAN INTO IT" and "UP UP UP!"
Here is a list if other popular ones that may work well for uphill-running:
“Be strong. Be bold.”
“Up and over.”
“Stronger with every step.”
“Steady forward momentum.”
“You’re getting stronger and faster.”
“Get it done.”
“You’re tougher than this hill.”
“You’re a natural.”
Use one of these to motivate you next time you encounter a challenging hill or develop your own mantra that resonates with you.
7. START COUNTING!
If you are someone that does not like using mantras, maybe try counting. I find it works especially well if you are already done a significant amount of climbing leaving you physically and mentally too fatigued to think! I often just used a simple counting pattern like 1,2,3,4...,1,2,3,4...However, feel free to pick a pattern that best suits your running-cadence.
8. DON'T LOSE MOMENTUM
Don't stop moving! Even if it is tempting to stop and take a break, try resist the temptation to stop dead in your tracks. If you really feel like you are unable to keep running, walk for a couple of steps to catch your breath, but don't lose momentum! Keep moving forward! Keep climbing up!
9. TRY TO STAY RELAXED
Running uphill is hard work for your cardiovascular system, so the tendency for runners is to tighten up and stress their bodies. Instead of trying to force it, try stay relaxed. Keep your arms at a 45-degree angle and move up towards the chin as opposed to being led to the rear by the elbows. You do this because your legs will follow the momentum from your arms and you want to be lifting you knees and still achieving bounce in our stride. Even just relaxing the shoulders can have a big impact on helping you to breathe better. Focus on being as relaxed for as long as possible, and really trying to use that natural strength you have rather than tensing up and forcing it when you approach a hill.
10. GO AT YOUR OWN PACE
If you are running in a group run and you find your aren't able to keep up, yet, when you approach a climb, back-off a bit. It is better to finish the run at your own pace than stoping early because you tried to keep up with others who are stronger than you at the moment. Remember, if you keep working at it, you too can become a better uphill runner! The key is to keep practicing and not just give up!
I think you can become a better uphill runner with practice, patience and persistence. Apply the above tips the next time you approach a climb on the run and see if you can feel a difference in your ability to get to the top faster with less mental and physical strain.