The Joy of Hills

You’ve checked the route, you know its coming, you brace yourself, you round the corner and there it is – the hill! Your heart sinks, you check your watch, mentally say goodbye to your fast pace and then head down start the climb.

Does that sound familiar? Do you dread, loath or hate hills? If so, then you are missing out on one of the joys of running. Yes, hills are hard but the rewards more often than not make the effort worthwhile. So here are a few reasons why I love hills and some tips to make them easier (or at least not quite so horrible).

Why I love hills…

  1. The views, oh the lovely views! They say a picture paints a thousand words so here are some photos from a couple of races that made the effort worthwhile to tempt you.

  2. They make racing on the flat easier. Your engine works harder on the hill and you engage muscles you may not have known you had previously. All of this makes you stronger, fitter and used right can power you through flat runs. Hill work is basically speed work in disguise!

  3. What goes up must come down! Most of you know I am appalling at the technical downs on fell races but there is a certain joy in throwing yourself down a grassy verge or thundering downhill on the road. Let gravity do the hard work and just hope your legs can keep up. Plus that fast pace you said goodbye to on the climb? You can make it up on the down.

Have I persuaded you? If so here are some of my top tips for making life on the hill easier gathered from the wisdom of other Harriers, reading too many running magazines/books and a bit of experience

  1. Think about your form. I believe (along with countless other runners) that a shorter stride with a rapid turnover is more efficient on a hill. Keep your head up and eyes focused ahead, if you’re hunched over you can’t get as much oxygen to your lungs and you’re going to need all the oxygen you can get!

  2. Get your arms moving as hills aren’t just about using your legs – if your arms are moving your legs will have to follow. Pump your arms and use their force to get you to the top.

  3. Use your head. Your mind is a powerful tool and can be just as valuable as a strong pair of legs to get you through a tough run. One of my favourite tricks is picturing a handsome Hollywood star or indie rock god pushing me up the hill. It’s amazing how much visualising a big, strong pair of arms driving you to the top helps. Alternatively be The Little Engine That Could and employ a positive frame of mind – I think I can, I think I can… Find what works for you and use it.

  4. Put your ego aside. Mentally it might feel better to race the whole hill but sometimes the smarter move is to slow down or even walk. You need to control your breathing and conserve your energy for the rest of the race. This is especially true on the fell where the hills can be calf cripplingly steep and walking is the only way for us mere mortals to reach the summit. For the mountain gods amongst you, you probably scamper up and already love hills so this article is wasted on you anyway!

  5. When you reach the top, don’t stop but do take a moment to look around and appreciate the view. You’ve just put in a huge amount of effort, make sure you enjoy the reward

Feeling motivated? There are a few hilly races left in the Championship calendar if you want to test your new found love of hills –

Championship Day Date Race Category
Road Wednesday 13/07/2016 Horwich 5 Short
Road Wednesday 17/08/2016 Horwich 5 Short
Road Sunday 25/09/2016 Swinton 10 Long
Fell Saturday 06/08/2016 Half Tour Bradwell BL 15.5m/3182ft
Fell Wednesday 10/08/2016 Pilgrim Cross BM 6m/1102ft

If you’re unsure what the numbers and letters mean for the fell races there is a handy guide on the Fell Championship pages.


— Emma Rettig