It goes without saying that if you go uphill faster, your overall race time will drop. But the benefits extend beyond just shaving seconds off your ascents. If you become more efficient on your climbs, you will have more energy to exert on the flats and downhills, and reduce the risk of injury.
Here are ways to improve your uphill running, by training and also by mindset.
Hiking is not shameful
The name “trail running” is a bit misleading. Even the best runners in the world walk the uphills after a certain gradient. Do not bog yourself down with feelings of guilt if you have to walk. In fact, you should walk. The ratio between speed and energy expended no longer makes sense on steep uphills. Sure, you will arrive at the summit a few seconds earlier, but you will be knackered and your descents will suffer, reducing your overall speed.
It is far more efficient to hike the uphills than to beast yourself by running them. So ensure you are factoring in hiking into your training so your body is used to working the right muscles at the right heart rate.
Training to hike means practising techniques, too. Try putting your hands on your thighs and pushing with each step to spread the load across your body, not just your legs. Practice hiking with poles as well, if you intend to use them on race day.
Hiking and walking is more efficient on race day, but that does not mean you should neglect high intensity workouts. By running intervals, you will be able to push your pace uphill in training as the breaks allow you to recharge.
Have set distances or times on a hill. For example, sprint 100m and walk 100m. Or run as fast as your can for a minute and walk for a minute. This higher intensity workout will train your body to work in its anaerobic zone and increase your lactic threshold. This means your body will become better at resisting that heavy-legged feeling when you’re hiking up a steep hill on race day.
Stronger muscles will help propel you, make you more efficient and allow you to hold your technique as you tire. Strength training will also reduce the risk of injury.
Work on your posterior chain (glutes, hamstring, calves), not just your quads. Great exercises for hiking and running include Bulgarian split squats – in a lunge position, with your back foot raised on a bench, lower your back knee to the ground and push back up through the front planted food. Walking lunges are also effective.
Romanian dead lifts will improve balance and hamstring strength – rotate from your hip so your torso moves forward and one leg lifts up behind you. With a slight bend in your planted leg, pull yourself back into the standing position. Calf raises will help, too, and keep your Achilles tendon healthy through all the flexing that is associated with uphill climbs.
Work on your core to keep your body upright as you climb, which will help with breathing among other benefits.
Run and cross training
If your engine is in fine fettle, your will go faster uphill. This means not all uphill training has to be on a hill. Vary your training. Do flat sessions on tracks, trails or roads. Include time on the bike, rowing machine or in the swimming pool. Workout in different heart rate zones. Build a strong aerobic base by including long slow sessions, when your heart rate is 120-130 beats-per minute.
Recce your race
If you can spend time on the race course before race day, you will reap the benefits particularly on hills. Knowing when a climb is coming, and how long it is, will allow you to mentally prepare and adjust your speed to prepare for it.
If you do not know the course, it can be hard to pace correctly. You might find yourself burning out because you went too fast on a hill that was unexpectedly long. Or you might waste time going slow on a hill that turns out to be a mere bump.