Uphill challenge? fail.
October 21, 2013 9:28 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn to run uphill? I'm a new runner. I have a 5k in about a month, that goes over an overpass (twice). I cannot run up the overpass without stopping 10 steps in. How can I get better at running uphill in 4-5 weeks?

Running 5k continuously without stopping is still a challenge for me, though I can usually do it. Next month, I have a 5k that begins before shortly before going over an overpass. Then it's flat. then you turn around halfway, and run back again hitting the same overpass, just before the finish.

My regular flat runs (every other day) are going ok, but I hit the incline and it just feels so exhausting! It feels like it takes 1000 times the energy. What the hell is wrong with me?!

I try and do some cross training - stair climbing the stairs in my high-rise. Using the elliptical 1-2x a week, doing some interval resistance. I can walk uphill no problem. But running up KILLS me!

How can I strengthen myself to run the entire way? I'm less concerned about the last hill/overpass, as I can probably push myself to do it at the end and finish soon after. But I'm worried I'll get burned out and tired from the overpass at the beginning. What can I do to better condition myself in the mean time? How can I train myself to get up those hills, and not effing stop?
posted by raztaj to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing is wrong with you. My wife runs half marathons and still hates hills.

Practice helps a lot just in terms of getting some hills into your runs.

However, a good practice for you to integrate into your weekly schedule a couple of times per week is a 10 minute gentle warm up (on the flat), 10*50m sprint uphill and walk back, 10 minute gentle warm down. If you're feeling bold, run for longer either side of your sprints, but IMHO 10 minutes each side is fine for a 5k preparation.

You will hate the sprints because everybody does. You get recovery time when you walk back to the start of your designated sprint stretch and by the end of it you will realise that you've just run 500m uphill at full pace.

What this training gives is that you will find running up hills both mentally less challenging and physically less tiring. If 10*50m is too much do 10*25m. The repetition is more important than the distance, so if you need to cut down do it on distance not reps.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is going to sound really stupid and overly obvious, but...run up the overpass. Lots. Whenever you train, make sure you run up at least one hill, and to get over the psychological barrier of that overpass, run up it a few times before your 5K.

It feels like it takes 1000 times the energy. What the hell is wrong with me?!

Absolutely nothing! Gravity wants to pull you back down to the low flat spot, and you're fighting that with your body weight.

I just started running last year, and I've done a few 5K's since I started. I've discovered that a lot of running is in your head; the best thing you can do is not freak out about 'WHAT IF I FAIL OH WOW THIS IS INTIMIDATING' and instead, train so you know you can do it.

Good luck!
posted by pdb at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You train yourself to go uphill by running uphill. Preferably bigger hills than the one you have to run in your race. A day or two of "interval" training each week before the race will help a lot. Find a big hill. Run up it. Run or walk back down it. Do it again. And again!
Someone will be along to give you a specific schedule, I am sure.
BUT! BUT! Walking up the hill is not defeat. And is a totally valid strategy.
posted by atomicstone at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It feels like it takes 1000 times the energy. What the hell is wrong with me?!

Potentially nothing? Running up hills is definitely harder and more effortful than flat. I'm not a super intense racer, but I regularly run 5k distances. Are you trying to maintain your same running speed/stride from the flat sections? If so, then yeah, you're working really hard! I like to think of myself as a bicycle rather than a(n automatic) car - hills mean low gear. During steep inclines I think about maintaining my stride *rhythm*, but the paces are/feel tiny. It seems to help to pitch forward more than feels naturally (I tend to pull my head back) so that you sort of fall forward up the incline. Better runners than me probably have more useful advice on form :p

As for training, you have a huge advantage in that (it sounds like) you can train on your race course. I'd approach this however you got to your 5k-without-walking fitness level. (Absurdly) tiny goals on your overpass or a treadmill with incline controls - either numbers of steps, or repetitions on the incline interval-training style.
posted by heyforfour at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hill sprints! Treat it as your primary workout 1-2 days a week (you don't say how many days a week you're training). Warm up with 5-10 minutes of easy jog. Find a hill - not too steep, since you're a beginner, one that takes you maybe 10-20 seconds to run up, to start. Starting at the bottom, run up as fast as you can, and walk down. When you get to the bottom, run up again. Do it 10 ish times. Then cool down with easy jogging, if you can. It's supposed to be hard - if you're not incredibly tired after a couple of hill sprints, you can try going faster.
posted by pekala at 9:45 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are your legs or your lungs the limiting factor? If it's legs, I find that if I lengthen my stride going up hill, so that my hips are taking the brunt of the effort, I can spare my calves the otherwise SEARING AGONY that a long, slow hill climb can inflict.

If it's lungs, nthing what everyone else has said about hill training. Run as far up the hill as you can, and when it gets too much, stop and walk briskly until you feel like you can run again. Don't stop -- keep moving forward at all times.
posted by coppermoss at 9:51 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Running uphill *is* harder than running on the flat. Practice running up hills, as others have suggested, and take smaller strides.

If all else fails - walk. Screw it. Do a sort of power walk and see if you can overtake some of the people who are trying to "run" it.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:56 AM on October 21, 2013

Nothing is wrong with you. I *hate* running up hills. But I do it, because it is a reliable way to increase strength, and improve my ability to run up hills.

You get better by running up hills! Make sure you are doing it properly - shorten your stride, feel free to slow down so that you can run up the whole hill, and keep your body upright with your gaze straight ahead. I would suggest starting hill repeats 1 or 2 times a week, repeating runs up and down the hill. Start with 2 or 3 repetitions and build from there. Before a half marathon, I'm usually up to about 10 or 12 hill repeats per workout. (That is totally not necessary for your 5K, I'm just saying that it gets easier as you build slowly.)
posted by barnoley at 10:08 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm just at week four of C25K, but it's something I've added to my daily walking routine. My walk includes what I like to call "Mt. Entrada", which is not a mountain at all but an enormously long and steep street. When I started I could not walk from the bottom of the hill to the top without almost passing out, but by walking up it every day I was able to get to the point where it's now almost easy. That's when I decided to work up to running all the way up the hill. I'm not nearly there yet, but I can run about 1/3 of it now and I'm doing it the same way, by just doing it. Every day I try to make it one step more, but it doesn't always work.

Just remember that you probably couldn't run 5k all at once at one time, either!
posted by Room 641-A at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The trick to hills (besides practice) is to do short steps, high knees (i.e., lift you knees higher than you think you should and shorten your stride.)

You'll feel incredibly silly, but it makes going up hills much, much easier.
posted by statsgirl at 10:26 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Put together an inspiring soundtrack (the good part starts @ about 1:30) & practice.
posted by headnsouth at 10:28 AM on October 21, 2013

Adding that if you follow the advice up-thread, you *may* find yourself passing people on the uphill portion during the race - which a totally AWESOME feeling!!
posted by dbmcd at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2013

There's an expression that hills are a speed workout in disguise. When I did cross-country, I saw everyone around me limping and walking up hills and I decided that I would own them. Lean in (like Sheryl Sandberg) to the hill and lengthen your stride.

Also, sometimes with hills or any time I'm struggling during a run, I end up counting my steps. It's weird but it helps me focus and keep going - it's easier to keep climbing when I'm counting because 15 comes after 14 so my feet just keep going. I can make deals with myself like, okay, just get to the next stop sign/street light/50 steps, then take a walk if you need to. Then on the return, you can remind yourself that it was only 29 steps and you can totally do that.

That all said, sometimes I walk up hills because I run for fun and if that part isn't fun, I don't have to do it. Hills aren't the boss of me. Passing people while running uphill feels rad but if you're walking up a hill, you probably won't be alone. Good luck and have fun!
posted by kat518 at 10:40 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, hills are just plain hard. (Disclaimer: I'm a fairly novice runner; I'm at a point where I can run 5K fairly comfortably, but my pace isn't remotely competitive yet.) When I hit the big hill that's on my usual route, I usually end up shortening my stride... Yes, it means I'm running up the hill more slowly, but it also means that I'm not completely destroyed by the time I reach the top. I still get a little winded, sure, but by the time I start going down the other side of the hill my energy comes back, and gravity makes the downhill part easier and faster.
posted by usonian at 11:22 AM on October 21, 2013

There is a lot of good advice in this thread. Hill repeats will improve your ability to climb, but they are an extremely challenging workout. I'm getting set to run a marathon in a few weeks and I found the 8 weeks of hill repeats to be by far the most difficult workout of the training cycle. So, don't dispair if you have difficulty with trying to do 10 repeats of your target hill. I do think that taking on a hill climb once a week where you push it up the hill and walk back down would be a great workout and might help you psychologically prepare. I would not do that workout the week before your 5k, because done right, it will be the hardest workout of your week. Try to pace yourself so that you can maintain a fairly consistent tempo every time you do the climb -- don't kill yourself on the first one and then struggle up the next and then blow up. It would be better to do four repeats at a slower pace than one fast, one slower and one walking. Set attainable targets, like running four repeats the first week and adding one next week and another the week after.

I suspect that you are also just discovering the limitations of your conditioning. If you are still at the stage where completing a 5k is challenging (congratulations on getting to that point!), you simply don't have the stamina and power to handle the significantly increased demands of hauling your mass up the incline yet. There is no shame in that, because hills are far more effort for all of us. Running a hilly mile is probably the equivilent of running two or more flat miles.

Beginners often lean too far forward when trying to climb, by bending at the waist. You don't want to do that because it limits your air intake, and you need all the oxygen you can get. You can lean your whole body forward, but don't bend at the waist. Shorten your stride dramatically and take bouncy, baby steps. You want short strides with exaggerated knee lift. It is the same idea as a bicyclist climbing the hill in a low gear -- you want to increase the number of steps you take while reducing the effort required for each step. Don't try to maintain your usual pace, accept that the hill is going to force you to slow down some and try to tap dance up it at whatever pace you end up with. This is especially important for the hill at the outset of your race -- you don't want to use up all your energy climbing the early hill only to die halfway through your race. If you are seriously gasping for air, you have to slow down or you won't be able to sustain yourself.

Unfortunately, like most things in running, there aren't many shortcuts. The answer to how to run hard things better is pretty much always to spend more time training. Run more hills, run more miles and get better. Take a few moments to contemplate the cool things you have accomplished and don't stress as much about the ones you haven't yet.
posted by Lame_username at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I was a cross country runner in high school, our home course had a *wicked* steep hill right off the bat. It was intimidating and hard, and coach had us run up and down that thing like crazy to get used to it. (And down, so that we could do it fast like flying without breaking our necks, because that was the home stretch.)

He also taught us to speed up on the hill, because there's nothing more intimidating to your opponents than to have you pass them on a hill they're struggling with.
posted by RedEmma at 1:55 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a trail runner, and it's totally normal on the trails for everyone except the really speedy guys to walk up and run down hills. I did my first trail marathon this summer and every time someone overtook me because they'd decided to run up the hill, I sailed past them on the way down with the energy I'd saved. So yes, walking up is a very valid strategy, not a cop-out.

But as above, if you really want to run it, start hill reps ASAP. If you can't run right up onto the overpass at the moment, go and run up it as far as you can, jog down. Repeat several times. Next time you come back, run up further, even if it's only by a few steps. OR - run up as far as you can, stop and stand still until you've caught your breath, then carry on up, until you get to the top. The latter has the advantage of boosting your confidence that you can actually run to the top, albeit with pauses.

The adrenaline on the day will help too.
posted by penguin pie at 2:15 PM on October 21, 2013

Don't look at the top of the hill. Keep your focus about a metre in front of your feet.

Train on the hill or a similar one as much as possible. Run as far as you can up it, then every time after that go a little bit further than the last time - even if it's only a couple of steps extra.
posted by trialex at 2:31 PM on October 21, 2013

but I hit the incline and it just feels so exhausting! It feels like it takes 1000 times the energy. What the hell is wrong with me?!

Nothing. You are just going too hard and pushing the limits of your current physical capacity. It will pass. Are you trying to maintain the same speed on the hill? Or even close to the same speed? Cause hills are much harder, slow down, slow right down. Teensy weensy steps, lots of them.

In my experience, many beginning to intermediate running issues are caused by running too fast. No shame in slowing it down.
posted by smoke at 2:33 PM on October 21, 2013

Hills are hard! My main advice for when you get to a hill: SLOW DOWN. I visualize shifting into a lower gear. My strides get shorter. Keep good posture because it's easier for your body to breathe if your torso is in good alignment. Head up, stack on top of your shoulders, on top of your hips, etc.

One coach I had liked to point out that your strides didn't actually have to go as far because the hill brings the ground up to meet your feet. "Hills are your friend!" she'd shout. Sometimes it made me grumble but sometimes it helped to go into it with a friendly attitude. (That last bit is possibly the doofiest thing I've written in a public forum. But it's true.)
posted by purple_bird at 2:44 PM on October 21, 2013

Make the overpass the start of your workout and run that mutha five times. That will get you past the psychological hurdle of it seeming impossible.
posted by zippy at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2013

In terms of body positioning, so you don't get all problematically hunch-y, I make sure my chest is pouting to the sky. I ted to run with my head down on hills bc I don't wanna see what's up ahead. That's fine as log as I point my chest to the sky. I'm sure I look the weirdo, but running make me look weird anyway.
posted by atomicstone at 3:30 PM on October 21, 2013

Hey, thanks to all the "chest up" comments I ran a whole...let's call it a segment...farther than I have been!
posted by Room 641-A at 9:45 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the really useful suggestions! I immediately began to incorporate a lot of them, and two weeks later, I can run up/down the overpasses! I'm not where I want to be, but this morning, I ran the 5k course. Started a little bit before the starting line, up/down the overpass, and about a minute further than the turnaround point. Paused to walk for a couple of minutes, then turned around and ran the other half - from the turnaround point, up/down the overpass again, and to where the finish line will be. So I'm strong enough to run the overpasses and run the entire length of the course, but I'm hoping in 3 weeks I can bridge the two halves and eliminate those couple minutes of walking in between.

Here's what I've incorporated, per a lot of your helpful suggestions:
- force run up at least one hill/overpass every time I go running (which is every other day)
- 1-2x a week, do some hill intervals (I've been pushing myself to jog up them 5-6x, but with walking breaks in between)
- Be conscious to stay upright and keep my chest forward/up, and not lean forward (I definitely tend to lean forward, so trying to correct this has been helpful)
- Slow down. I find that if I slow down 20 or so steps BEFORE the incline begins, it helps to take those seconds to shift myself into a lower gear rhythm, rather than when I start to feel it going uphill
- I definitely feel it more in my legs than in my lungs, so when I start to feel an ache, I've lengthened my stride for a little bit to shift some of the effort to my hips, and give my legs a little bit of a break
- resort to my really ugly strained running face, which is not something I think the public should be ever forced to see, but is sometimes necessary to put on to push through difficult moments

Pretty much everything here has been very helpful. Hoping that a couple more weeks of training with these tips put to use, and the overall momentum of the race will help me bridge the seams and run the full thing. Thanks everyone!
posted by raztaj at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

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