Hills Can Be Your Friend

Hills. I hate ‘em. We used to have to run the local ski hill in junior high and high school cross country. Admittedly, it was in Chicago so our “ski hill” was a true skier’s bunny hill. BUT STILL. It sucked.

My least favorite, but most rewarding hill, is the climb to the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon. It finishes at Arlington Cemetery in front of the statue of the soldiers at Iwo Jima. It’s an up hill finish line and it is torture. But, it’s the end so it’s kind of awesome. Still, not my favorite way to finish a race.

Reasons I don’t like hills:

-They make my quads burn

-I can’t stride out

-They seem endless

-I sometimes want to vomit when I reach the top, but it’s almost never the end.

I sound like a great, big whiner right now. Pathetic, I know. But don’t be fooled by my whining, I still do my hills. Actually, when the race has some rolling hills, I do far better than if it’s completely flat the entire way. You do, too, you just don’t know why.

Hills do our bodies good. It allows our hamstrings to take a break and our quadriceps to take over as the main muscle group of our stride. This switching back and forth keeps our legs fresh because one muscle group isn’t being beaten up for the entirety of our run. This is more valuable than you think.

The Brooklyn Half-Marathon used to start at Coney Island and go north for 8 miles up Coney Island Avenue into Prospect Park. This meant that the first 8 miles of the race were completely flat. Great, right? Wrong. It wears out the hamstrings and your body gets overtired from running on the same surface for such a long time.

I remember very vividly hitting the park, which has some hills but nothing like the Presidio (that place was terrifying!), and being able to go faster. I tapped into my bored quadriceps for energy and gave my hammys a break. I left a lot of people in my dust because I focused on the previously second-tier muscles of my quadriceps and decided that they were ready, willing and able to take over as the motor of my running. I also had the very lovely reward of also going down the hills which I climbed. This is both tremendously mentally rewarding and physically rewarding.

A little thought about fact is also that running up hills takes away a tremendous amount of pounding on your joints. Because you’re pushing the weight of your body uphill, the force on your joints is lessened (well done, first semester physics teacher). The benefits of less hammering on your body is obvious. Suffice to say that this is a good thing. A good thing for racing and a good thing for your weekly workouts.

So next time you’re looking at a race and marveling about how flat and fast it is, remember that a flat road isn’t always your best friend. Try a race with some rolling hills. You might surprise yourself and enjoy the benefits of going both up AND down.

Now go out and run!!!

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