Hills!

Why am I so crap at them?

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29/06/2009 at 15:33

I know that hills have been covered almost as much as "which shoe should I buy" but despite trawling the past threads i can't find an answer to my problem.

I've been running for around 8 years or so with a few months off here and there.

I'm not competitive and don't profess to be a particularly good or fast runner. However I feel I'm fit and strong enough to be able to enjoy running without it being too painful?! I've done London (2003) a half marathon (1h 50) and several 10k's (47-50mins)

I've always had the same problem which is hills! I just can't seem to do em! But lately it seems a lot worse to the point of de motivation!

I can run for miles on a flat course with perhaps one slight or very short hill but despite feeling great and running comfortably I become exhausted almost immediately when I try a reasonable hill. My legs seem to drain of all strength and I am fighting to keep going stright away. I often don't get to the top without walking or even having to stop!

The energy drain is wierd as it's almost instant and total! I have often though about seeing a doctor, it's THAT bad! Sometimes the hill is not even a real hill, just a slight upwards gradient but the result is the same "instant energy drain"!!! Anything other than flat or down hill has the same effect in varying degrees.

I moved last year from a very flat area to a very hilly (to me) area in Derbyshire and I have struggled in the last few months to find a flat(ish) course that also avoids the main A6 road and all the car fumes.

There's lots of nice country roads and foot paths but they all involve hills, hills that I simply cannot get up without walking, often for most of the hill and with little energy left afterwards.

Am I missing something? Is it just me? Is this common? I don't just mean I find them hard work, I mean I find them almost impossible!!!

Could it be something to do with my metabolism? I am 46 and around 12.5 stone. I have considered that it's just that my legs have to push 12st + up the hill, whereas my wife only has to get 8st up there, Despite her being a less strong and less experienced runner she seems to cope with hills far better than i do and doesn't even seem to notice the gradient unless it's very steep!

Any advice (other than "love hills") would be welcome. I can't "love them" if I can't even get up them without walking and feeling really crappy and "cheated"about my run afterwards.

Could it be a fuel problem? Is there a certain food that will help me? Is my body not storing sugar/carbs properly?

Is it just my genetics? Am I simply not built that way and will always struggle with hills, no matter how much I run?

I really need an angle on this as it's ruining my running and making me consider packing it in as i just don't enjoy it like this.

Cheers.

Mac.

Belper

Derbyshire

Bionic Ironwolf    pirate
29/06/2009 at 15:42
I would certainly see a doctor just to rule out any hidden physical problem; however I think it's more likely a combination of (a) your weight (b) de-motivation and (c) lack of practice. I had a hard time for years with hills and would avoid them if possible. Since moving to a place where a huge forest is only 200m from our door but all trails lead upwards, I've learnt over time to run them reasonably well now without struggling. I'll never be fast up hill, almost everyone passes me going up but I get 'em back going down again because I fly. I have a suggestion - after you get the all clear from the doc, why don't you pick a smallish incline and try going up and down just a few yards at a time, then when that starts to feel easier go a bit further and so gradually increase the amount of 'climb' you can do.
Iron Pingu    pirate
29/06/2009 at 15:48

Hills are hard.

I live in a very hilly area (mountains) and used to plot my routes to avoid any big hills which really reduced the places for decent runs.  I'm not sure why, probably boredom but eventually I started doing more and more runs with hills in.  I think you just need to dig in and get your head down.   I often focus on the downhill you get afterwards, that really helps.  Are you going to fast up them by any chance?  Sometimes I'm sure I could walk faster than I'm running up them!

29/06/2009 at 16:09

Thanks for the replies guys!

I have tried the "digging deep" method but it just doesn't work when your legs refuse to move Sometimes after a hill I seem to get a "second wind" and fly from then on, even if I do hit a couple more hills!

One example is this.  I have a regular mid-week run of around 4.5 miles (according to my Forerunner) It starts along the A6 from Milford to Duffield (flat) and then hits a shortish but fairly (to me) steep hill over the railway line and into Duffield. Then it's flat again for about 1/4 mile until another railway over. Then flat for a bit until I cross over and turn to cross the river towards the Makeney road. There is another bridge over the river with a fairly long run up (to me) before going down hill a short bit. Then it's the hill that always stops me! It's around 400m long and although not ridiculously steep it's still a noticable hill (to me). I get about halfway to 3/4 up before having to stop. Sometimes I manage to get up it only to stop at the top through exhaustion! When I have got up it it's only by almost "shuffling" up it, like you say I swear I could walk faster!

However this is where it sometimes gets wierd! When I do manage it (and following a short 1-2 minute period of recovery whilst still running/shuffling) I then seem to get this second wind and then on run really well and even take the next 3 hills before i get home in my stride and even manage to power up them!

Could it be that for some reason my sugar/energy level hits a natural "dip" or "trough" right at the point where that dreaded hill starts? And then switches over to reserves or fat burn afterwards? Could I therefore eat differently to increase my energy levels or muscle energy to alter the timing of this?

I think I need to join another running club regardless to get my motivation back!

Any in Belper or Milford?

Mac.

29/06/2009 at 16:39

Mac,

I'm not an expert physiologist but it appears to me that there are two main differences between running up hills and running on the flat:

1. Different muscles being used;
2. Being forced to run at a higher intensity.

Re: point 1 - As for getting your muscles used to running on hills, I'm not sure there is much you can do other than practising running on hills.  However maybe it would be more easily approached as an interval session, e.g. do as Ironwolf suggests, pick a hill to run up and try to increase the distance you run up, and I would add exaggerating your running style to more of a bouncy action, concentrating on running on your toes. This will feel quite hard, but over time you should strengthen your calves and improve toe-off in your running action, and this will improve your hill running. Will take some perseverance though.

Re: point 2 - I really think joining a club can help, partly because you will have other people to run (up hills) with, but also I think normal interval/speed training will help.  To some extent, you can mimic the effect of hill running without running up hills, because you're training your body's energy systems to run intermittent high intensity efforts in between more comfortably paced efforts. Improving your aerobic capacity (VO2 max) will have a huge bearing on how well your heart and lungs can get you up a hill.  Not to mention, presumably Derbyshire based club runners will be used to running up lots of hills and can give you lots of advice and motivation.

BTW, I don't know how tall you are but 12.5 stone doesn't sound that heavy. I'm a little under 12st (5'10") but in cross-country races all the stick insects seem to overtake me going downhill and I overtake them going up!

29/06/2009 at 17:16

Thanks!

I'm 5'8" and vary from 12st 6 - 12st 10.

The least I've been in recent years is 12st 3 and the most 13st.

My wife Say's I don't look healthy when i go below 12st 8.

I'm looking into a club as we speak and will keep trying to get up the hills for now, even if I have to run/walk up them for now.

If I can't get up in one go I currently switch tactics & try to power up as far as I can and then walk for around 10 - 30 secs and then power again. At least I get some sort of session out of it?

Good advice all round, thanks again.

29/06/2009 at 17:33

There are times I hate hills. The only way I get up them is by going slow slow slow. I borrowed a friend'd garmin a while back and was shocked that on an uphill section I slowed to 15 min/mile (i'm usually between 9 and 11).

Anyway I've been trying to get myself more into hills by doing interval sessions up them. I found a nice steep hill that takes about a minute to run up and then do 6-10 repetitions up it as fast as I can. Dunno if it's psychological but I've been liking hills a bit more since doing this.

29/06/2009 at 20:20

Hills are hard work. Add them to your runs slowly. Hills hurt. You need to start by a long gentle warm up on flattish terrain the start the hill. Choose gentle slopes to begin with and run up them slowly. Gradually increase the % and your speed.

I actually started hill work on a treadmill. Warm up then every 30 secs alternate increasing your speed by .5k or your % by .5 til you feel buggered, then cool down.

I actively go out and seek hills. Ran up to Mt Caburn in the South Downs today.

30/06/2009 at 09:19
I`m 13 stone and I love hills! I believe it`s partly my upbringing as a 400m runner doing hill sprints but I also believe that psychology is at least as important. I believe I`m good at hills therefore I am - self-fulfilling prophecy. In reality, I`m probably not good at them but I `attack` them, feel a sense of achievement when I get to the top.
30/06/2009 at 10:31

I don't mind hills, they make a run more interesting.  Especially the 'down' part

Maybe you're trying to go up them too fast, Mac? 

Even though I don't find them particularly hard, my pace always slows running up hill.

30/06/2009 at 10:40

Belper Harriers meet at Belper Lesuire Centre on Tuesdays 7.15pm (to run for 7.30pm) - very friendly bunch, lots of varying abilities.  Worth checking before turning up as sometimes we dive off into the countryside (and meet elsewhere).  We are there tonight though

 We do quite af few hills (sorry!), unavoidable in the Derwent Valley, but everyone takes them at there own pace.

30/06/2009 at 16:46
Hills require more strength in your quads than flat running AND there is a 'knack'.

Hills sessions (definitely with a club or in company - hellish on your own) are an absolute MUST and make the most enormous difference. As does cycling (I have found anyway) as it requires quad strength too - OR strength work like lunges, or even quad extensions.

The 'knack' is to lean forward a little (from your heels NOT your waist), move your arms more upwards as you swing them as if you are punching your nose (energy vector in the direction of motion - i.e up the hill rather than into the hill), small steps but lifting your quads more than normal. THEN get yourself a mantra. i.e. i can do it, I can do it....... Focus on the ground in front of you rather than looking upwards and thinking 'oh god look how far'.

I have to say that I think living in a hilly part of the world helps enormously. I can't run even a mile without hitting a hill and so have had to learn to deal with them. Have ridiculous quads of course! You will adapt but you seem to be developing a mental block about hills that I am sure is as much mental as it is physical. I am sure a club will help loads.
30/06/2009 at 16:51
I forgot to say. Every coach I have ever worked with has shouted the same thing during hills - USE THOSE ARMS !!!!!

Really focus on using your arms to help drive you up the hill. They generally do less on a run so make them work for you on the hills. Let your legs relax a little. One coach used to say that you should let your legs rest on the hills and let your arms do all the work so that when you get to the top you are fresh to run faster !!!!!!!!!!!! I never quite got the hang of that.
30/06/2009 at 18:23
Yep, on the hills I always tell my runners "big arms, little steps".  Short stride and focusing on your arms driving you up makes a big difference.
30/06/2009 at 20:02

Maybe some ab work would help too? You have to lift your legs higher so the 'lifting' muscles at the top of your legs / abs are working harder?
Someone knowledgeable please correct me if I'm speaking out of my botty.

And maybe you feel like you would be faster walking but believe me you wouldn't. I often feel like that on one of my regular hills, until one day I overtook a walker which cheered my up no end and also destroyed any excuses for not getting my head down and getting on with it.

Do you wear an HRM? That'll tell you if you're really pushing yourself physically or if it's just in your mind.

Plus I think it's important to run up pretty hills (until you get the hang of it) - somewhere you might get a view from the top. Running up a hill in a housing estate would be just soul destroying.

I hate flat running now but when I started running I regularly walked / stopped / cried like a blouse on a hill that I now don't even take seriously. It's just practise (underlying medical problems excepted).

30/06/2009 at 20:05

Actually, that last part isn't true - I normally run up the bugger as fast as I can just to show it it can't beat me any more. I still haven't forgiven it for all that torture.

Like the 'big arms, little steps' mantra. Will try it out this weekend.

30/06/2009 at 21:04
I like the 'big arms little steps' thing too - will also try it on my local hills.  I hate hills and always struggle on them.  Thought it might be down to the fact that my ankles don't bend upwards properly (I have equinus and have orthotics to correct it) so I have less power, but that might just be a very plausible sounding excuse
07/07/2009 at 03:56
Hi Mac I had the same problem with hills due to where I live a  lot of my runs start with a half mile hill and I used to find id be drained before id even covered a few hundred yards, a tiredness level well out of proportion with the distance I had covered. My problem turned out not to be the hills but the speed I would run at. I  was simply trying to run them too fast for my level of fitness. I wasnt moving fast just too fast for how fit I was and often before I  had warmed up. By easing off and relaxing up the hill I had far more energy for the downhill and flat sections. and my overall time for the distance improved. I hadnt realised that I ran every run the same as a Tempo run with no easy runs in my week and I wasnt warming up and allowing my body time to adapt. Like you id recover. Basically if the hills were at the beginning they hit me hard physically once fully warmed up they didnt have same impact. The effects did feel like a metabolism blood sugar problem but for me was due to me setting off at my usual speed with no warm up. I need a couple of miles before Im running freely and am fully warmed up I found a protein food supplement fairly useful for muscle repair for regular training but do tend to find it  sits heavy in the legs for a few miles. I had tried this in an attempt to find remedy to extreme fatigue caused by hills. The only supplement Im sure  benefitted me was one a day iron and multivit tablet.. Im improving on hills now but I suspect this is because im starting to get fitter with regular training. A strange thing when i concentrate on not pushing it and just relax I actually run faster. I hope some of this is of some help to you and hope you enjoy your running
07/07/2009 at 12:57

It is mind, speed and movement.....

Mind - Think positive on a hill, give yourself a treat when you get to the top or once you done it, it will be easy.

Speed - You should go a lot slower on hills 

Movement - Pratically jog on the spot working your way up!

 I am 16.5 stones, and I used to attack hills at normal speed and movement with dire results, until I saw someone doing the above and it changed everything.   It will not happen overnight......

08/07/2009 at 17:23

In Hampshire, hills come with the territory, and it would be difficult to do any long Sunday run without them.

Psychology plays a big part. I usually do the same route, and know when a hill is coming, and how many of them there are. So, each one, I count it down. I don't do it from the first hill, because I don't really notice it. However, once I get to the biggest one, I say Hill 15 of 20, then hill 16 of 20, and so on. I also look for landmarks that tell me the hill has finished e.g. when I get to the end of the wood, when I get to the 'No Vehicles' sign, when I reach those three spindly trees.

Have one, maybe the last-but-one, where you treat yourself to a walk. Then you'll really look forward to it, then suddenly one day, you'll realise that you don't need to walk it.

Also, I try to think of ANYTHING, but the hill - what I'm going to eat when I get home, what I should have said to so-and-so, what I should do at work, counting in a foreign language. etc.

Azacaya - completely agree. Nothing is worse than the hill past the industrial estate up to Tesco.!

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