Wednesday, November 7, 2012

For Improved Running Performance Just Head for the Hills

Contributed by: Christine Blanchette of (Twitter: christineruns)

There is an old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Actually, the exact quote goes, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” an original by noted German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who died in 1900 at 55.  If a man that barely saw the beginning of the 20th century could come up with such a timeless quote, he probably would have made a great hill runner because he surely understood the concept of what it takes.

There are many novice runners, myself included that would avoid hills like the plague.  We just said no to the torture of legs turned to rubber while gasping like fish out of water to the summit of what could only be described as Mount Everest II.  It was far from an enjoyable experience but as I got used to running hills I began to appreciate what they were doing for my body. I developed stronger legs and became a stronger runner. Now, I run for the hills and enjoy it.  Everest II, it turned out, was just about 600 meters long and not really that steep. The enormously talented Kenyan and Ethiopian marathon runners are accustomed to extremely hilly terrain. I include hill training at least once a week and if you live in a hilly area then the hills become part of your daily workout.

In a recent email interview with Dr. Jack Scaff, the Honolulu resident known as, “The Father of Running” in Hawaii, he shared his expertise on hill training.  In his book, ‘Your First Marathon, the Last Chapter in Long Distance Running,’ hill training is covered extensively.

“Hill running is good strength training, however it tends to be anaerobic,” Dr. Scaff said. “When one approaches a hill, one should run perpendicular to the horizon, shorten their stride and come off the backside of the hill or downhill using the same type of stride - short steps going up the hill, the same short steps coming down, longer strides on the flat and no pounding at any time.”

By including hills as part of your running program you will reap the benefits of becoming a better runner. Most races have hills and you will be better prepared to tackle the hill both mentally and physically.

Dr. Scaff advises, “Most running injuries secondary to hill training seem to occur on the down slope and while one might attribute this to the so-called "pounding" actually it's an expression of “eccentric work.”

He further comments, “Remember, the only function of a muscle fiber is to contract and the belly of the muscle fiber gets thicker.  Look at your biceps in the arm as you lift a weight, you will note they get thicker and as the muscle fibers (align) themselves with each other (known as recruitment) increasing in strength.  So when one is lifting a barbell it’s harder with the arm fully extended than suddenly becomes easier in the mid portion of the lift secondary to recruitment. Running downhill is a paradox since all the muscle can do is contract.   As you run down hill, the muscle must relax at the same time while it is trying to contract.  And of course this decreases recruitment as well as subjects the muscle to a greater potential for injury.  Running with a similar stride or a shorter stride downhill than that used going uphill helps prevent this.”

You should pick a hill that is suited for your training.  For average runners, choose a hill that takes about 90 seconds to run.  

How to run a hill: head up, pump your arms, lean slightly forward and run about 80% effort and jog or walk on the way down.  Repeat six to 10 times.
So there you have it – the next time you see a hill, just tackle it and think of it as part of your normal running routine. The more hills you run the easier it becomes – and the stronger you will become.

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