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How to Conquer the Ups and Downs of Hill Racing

By: Tristin Van Ord (Raleigh Distance Project)

Even though the Lynchburg terrain has Raleigh (“the piedmont”) beat when it comes to hills and elevation, we still have some experience and knowledge on how to fall in love with rolling terrain.

If you’ve run the Virginia 10 Miler before, you know to expect a fair share of hills during the race.

Hills can be daunting at first, but learning to master them can help you perform better when race day rolls around. Who knows, you might even learn to love them! Outlined below are a few physical and mental tips to help you conquer the Virginia 10 Miler course (maybe even with a smile!):

1. During the race, don’t look at your pace while running uphill
We all know we wouldn’t be able to live (or dare I say run) without our GPS watches, but it’s super unhelpful when you look down and see that you’re 3 minutes off pace when you’re struggling up a hill. With a rolling course, your pace is going to vary dramatically when going up and down hills. Do yourself a favor and keep your eyes off your wrist when you’re pushing up a mountain. Instead, focus on your breathing and form to propel you to the top.

2. Use hills to break up the race or workout
One helpful way to use hills to your advantage is to put a positive spin on them. Hills can break up a race in a similar way to doing laps on a track. Use each hill to create a focal point for that part of the race. Take it one hill at a time, and remind yourself to stay in the moment. Even though flat courses might be considered easier, they’re also very boring! Use hills to stay engaged with your surroundings and break the race up into segments. 

3. Let the downhill carry you
Most people focus on conquering the uphills, but the downhills are equally as important. Remember to let the downhills carry you; you’re basically getting free seconds in the bank without exerting much effort. Runners tend to naturally lean backwards when going downhill because they are afraid of falling or going too fast. Leaning into the downhill and letting the legs roll and carry you will help you conserve energy and make up for any seconds lost on the uphill.

4. Do hill repeats or hill strides before the race to practice
Hill repeats are a crucial workout for anyone planning on running a personal best on a rolling course. Find a hill around 300 meters long that you can safely run on. When running uphill, focus on your form while pushing at a hard effort; when running back down, focus on recovering for the next repeat.

TIP: Steeper is not necessarily better when it comes to hill repeats. Try to find a hill where you can still run at a decent clip–even though you don’t want to look at your watch on hills during a race, it can help to keep time and distance when doing hill repeats. 

So when starting your training block for the Virginia 10 Miler, don’t forget to incorporate some of these tips into your hill training. If anything, just remember to keep pumping your arms, pick up your knees and keep your head up!