black and white photo of female runner in rocky, dry mountains

5 Ways Hills Make Run Magic

A version of this article originally appeared in Hawaii Sport magazine, Jan-Feb. 2019 issue.

Many runners avoid hills because it involves more core muscles and…it’s hard! However, hills are an oft overlooked source of Run Magic.

1. Time and Distance Supercharged

Runner on rolling, green hills
Photo by djedj on Pixabay

In less time and in a shorter distance, running a hill requires more effort, burns more calories, and uses more muscles than running flat (for the same time or distance). Therefore, when pressed for time, warm up properly, then go get a hill!

2. Run Your Speed

Smiling runner on hill
Photo by Kelvin Lau

You could do hill sprints or hill repeats as part of your training, trying to podium every time. Or, you could just run the hill at a comfortable speed that lets you breathe through your nose with your mouth closed; some call it “conversation speed.” Choose a speed that feels like “I can do this,” not one that makes you hate the hill.

3. Work that Core

If you are one of those runners that do running man exercises, plank, or kettle ball, good for you! If you are like me, run when you can and slump when you’re not running, then your core needs a hill. Let the hill do the work for you and improve your form.

4. Embrace the Suck

Hills, when regularly fit into your run week at a comfortable, happy-not-hate pace, can transform the hardest part of running into Secret Sauce. When I first started running with Runners HI, a short, uphill section of the bike path on the return journey felt like gravity squared. I hated that feeling. And because it sucked so much, I vowed to eat hills until they did not suck. Now they are my favorite type of running. Pearl City, Aiea, and Halawa on Oahu have great hills – long and steep.

5. Great for Shorties

photo by Kelvin Lau

Stride for stride, a shorter person with the same cadence as a taller person will travel less distance. Hills even that up since inclines feel easier when you take shorter steps. You want shorter steps going up a hill to help maintain your form. I am 5’1.” Obviously, my taller friends quickly outdistance me. Even my 5’4” daughter outpaces me on a walk. But give me a hill and I can keep up, occasionally passing taller flatlanders.

Bonus Reason

6. Enter the Zen

Photo by Beetle on Pixabay

A kung fu instructor once told me that meditation is better for health than high-impact sports like running. His idea of running is very different from mine. Most of the time, even on hills, I relax into my pace, concentrate on slow, even breathing, and gaze a few yards ahead of me. Going up a hill in that states is peaceful, meditative. I notice rustling leaves, flowers on the ground, hopping saffon finches, and the space around me.

Photo by Hans on Pixabay

If your area lacks varied terrain and welcoming weather, use stairs and bridges for hill training. You can listen to an audiobook or podcast to help you relax into the zen hill-climb state.

Make hills your friends. Run on your terms. Work your Run Magic!

Your Turn

How do you feel about hills?

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