Fighting against gravity, even a short but steep hill can really burn the legs and lungs, but running uphill does not have to be the slog it is for many. Here are nine easy ways to improve your incline skills.
You will be able to put your new-found ability to the test in the 11th annual The Victoria To Peak Challenge. The race in October is almost completely uphill, flagging off from Central Pier nine and finishing on the Peak.
To celebrate its 11th anniversary, the 10km course has been extended to 11km, with around 700m of elevation.
Last year, of some 500 participants, only about 20 people clocked under 60 minutes. This would be a pedestrian time for a flat 10km.
So how can one run hills faster? Race director Freeman Lee Ping-chiu, a certified IAAF Track & Field Coach and a 2:44 marathon runner, offers the following tips:
1. Step this way
When running on hills, your stride length should be a bit shorter than when running on flats. You should also have a higher cadence — in other words, a higher stride frequency. Land on the ball of your foot and push off from your toes, and focus on generating power from your calves.
2. Straighten up and run right
Whether you are running on a flat road or uphill, maintaining good posture is key. Keep upright, do not hunch, and engage your core as much as possible. Lean forward — the steeper the hill, the greater the lean — and this will help you keep forward momentum. Compared with running on flats, you should have greater arm swing, as this can help you power uphill. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed.
3. Keep your eyes on the prize
As you tire, it’s natural to bend over and look at your feet. Try to always look a little ahead and take glances towards the top of the hill. If you look up, the scenery might also distract you from the effort of the tough climb. If the uphill section is too long, divide it into sections in your head. It makes it easier if you aim to achieve one section at a time.
4. Tune in to yourself
Listen to your breathing — are you finding it difficult to breathe? You might be going too fast. Try to maintain relaxed breathing, conserve your energy, and run a pace that’s comfortable (or a tad harder).
5. Don’t be afraid to walk
Lee recalls doing the AVOHK Tai Tam Reservoir race, where the last 1.5km or so included a long steep climb followed by a downhill finish. One of his friends ran the uphill, while Lee walked briskly about 10m behind. At the top of the hill, Lee began sprinting downhill and eventually beat his friend, who was fully spent trying to power uphill. Lesson: if it’s too difficult to run the hill, brisk walking may be a smart option.
6. Incorporate hills into your training
Hill workouts are ideal for training, not only your cardiovascular endurance, but also your muscular strength and running economy.
For beginner runners, aim to do two runs a week. One run should be a hill workout, and the other run a longer, slower run over undulating terrain. For the hill workout: warm up with 10-15 minutes of easy running, followed by 4-5 all-out sprints on an 80-100 metre-long hill (walk down the hill in between reps), then finish off with another 10-15 minutes of easy running.
For more experienced runners, do a similar session but find a longer, steeper hill, and aim to complete 5-8 reps. Your long easy run should likewise incorporate some hills.
7. Don’t totally shun the flats
If you want to improve your overall speed and running economy, running fast flat intervals is always a good idea, even if you’re training for a hilly race. Experienced runners should try to do one flat interval session weekly.
8. It’s not all about running
Incorporating some strength training into your weekly programme, especially for your legs and core, can help you run faster uphills as well. Squats and lunges will build leg power, while core exercises like planks and crunches can help you maintain good posture while running.
9. Familiarise yourself with the race course
Always do a reconnaissance of the race course, so you know the terrain and can plan how to pace yourself and allocate your energy. For the Victoria To Peak Challenge, Lee offers the following advice:
There are a few totally flat sections in the race — treat them as your recovery time, rather than try to sprint them.
After Conduit Road (about 8km mark), the route climbs up Morning Trail to the Peak. Walking is not a bad idea up Morning Trail. Once you hit Harlech Road, run as fast as you can — but remember to save some energy for the final 200m uphill to Mount Austin Playground.
Kenyan runner Thomas Kiprotich, multiple winner of the Victoria To Peak Challenge, clocks about 42-44 minutes for the race, versus about 31-32 minutes for a flat 10km. If you take about 50 minutes to run 10km, your finishing time for the Victoria To Peak Challenge should be about 10-15 minutes more.
Bring your own reusable foldable cup or water bottle to refill at the three water stations along the route, because no cups or bottles will be handed out.
The 11th Victoria To Peak Challenge takes place on October 1 at 7.30am.