Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Life's a Climb

Such a big hill to climb.  Its a love hate thing, but something I will soon have to embrace.  I'm about 3 months behind on my 100 Mile training and should be into hill training already.  If I get a good week of consecutive runs next week, I should be good to begin.  Here's some pointers if any of you are looking to rise to the challenge.

Hill training will improve your training distances, anaerobic capacity and strength.  Its essential to soar if you want to put the roof on your training.  Uphill running helps us increase our stride length by increasing our knee lift.  Our quadriceps and hip flexor muscle groups become stronger from lifting our knees higher.  This effect carries over to when we run on flat ground, because the higher knee lift translates into a slightly longer stride length on level ground.

So, if you run with longer strides using the same effort, it’s logical that you’ll cover a given distance in a shorter time. Here’s an example using the 10K distance for an 8-minutes/mile runner, who covers about 1.1 yards/stride. Simply lengthening the stride length by 1 inch, (multiplied by the 9,090 strides to cover the 10K distance) shaves about 250 yards, or around 1 minute off the time.The faster and more powerful your foot-strike, the faster you’ll run and the more steps you’ll have per minute. Hill sprinting improves the tensile strength of your leg muscles, and thus enhances the recoil or return of energy from each foot compression (g-force).  There’s also another way hill running can increase stride frequency—downhill running. If done with short quick strides your neuromuscular system adapts to a faster leg turnover, thus increasing stride frequency.   Let gravity do the work.

Studies show that VO2 max (the ability of your heart and lunges to utilize energy) contributes significantly more to uphill running compared with horizontal running. This high VO2 max level incurred during uphill running is partly due to the increased demands of the lower extremity muscles, the largest muscle mass in the body. As aerobic capacity is improved from uphill training, you‘ll use less energy and oxygen at a given speed, or over longer distances—in other words your running economy improves. This derives from better coordination of your neuromuscular system. At the metabolic level, hill trained runners experience an increase in lactate threshold and anaerobic threshold. Lactate threshold is the point where lactic acid produced in the muscle is not metabolized as fast as it is produced. Hill running improves the strength and endurance of the quadriceps, hip flexor and hip extensor muscle groups—so the increased ability of these muscle groups to resist fatigue (lactic acid) shows through in the latter stages of races. You’ll slow down less, improving your race times.The benefit to you, it that hill trained runners don’t fear steep gradients in races because they have improved confidence from training on them. They mentally withstand the extra demands of hills in races and training to the point of eagerly anticipating hilly courses. 

To maintain the center of gravity over the drive leg you need to shorten your stride slightly. Exaggerate your forward lean by bending at the waist to direct force up the hill, and bring your hands and arms up high (even as high as your ears), as if you were pulling yourself up.
Different gradients require different technique modifications: the steeper the hill, the more you’ll need to lean in to it and drive more powerfully with your arms. Run with exaggerated knee lift and push off hard with your glutes and ankles from your toes. Knee lift should be more exaggerated on steeper hills. On slight inclines run with a shorter, faster stride. Breath deeper when you run uphill. You’ll find in your early uphill efforts you’ll have to slow down. If you persist with this, going a little further up the hill on each outing at your faster pace, your breathing will get easier and your legs will not feel so fatigued and heavy. Eventually you’ll be able to crest the hill at the same pace you started at. 

The best way to think of hills is essentially like doing track intervals. Select a steady uphill slope up to 5% or 8% grade. It doesn’t need to be really steep. Do a number of repeats up it. Lean forward and pump your arms strongly. These repeats should be at about 85% effort, or close to your VO2 max.
Walk or jog slowly back down to the start. No hurry here, as you don’t want to jar your legs too much from the downhill running. You may even want to walk backwards down the hill to relieve the strain on your quadriceps.

"After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb" ~ Nelson Mandela

NOTE:  The information was prepared for my half marathon group.  I received my personal training certifcation thru CPTN at Conestoga College.