Training for hill running
Running downhill fast is a skill that can be learned and improves with practice
Most hill races involve climbs too steep for most to run up and you will find most of the pack walking hard instead. This allows you to conserve energy and, on the long runs, is a good time to eat, as you are not jolting your stomach around. In order to get fit to race in the hills, days out hill-walking are an excellent way of strengthening your thigh muscles (quadriceps). Other sports such as cycling can translate really well to hill-climbing fitness, too.
Practice descents before racing down them!
Running downhill fast is a skill that can be learned and certainly improves with practice. A lot of your ability to do this will depend on balance and an ability to look ahead to place your feet. This is the part of hill running that leads to the sore legs the next day (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or 'DOMS') but training for this by running downhill will decrease it significantly.
Because the nature of the ground you run on will determine your speed, sometimes it makes more sense to record time rather than miles in your training diary. As a result it's important to consider 'time on your feet' when preparing for hill races, so consider doing longer runs. To race on the hills, it makes sense to train on them and so develop a feel for pacing whilst improving your strength. If this is impractical for you, days out hill walking make an excellent alternative.
Tips for planning a run
- How much time have you got/do you want to be out for? Look at a map and then err on the side of caution.
- A good approach is to go for a circular loop with ways you can cut off early if the weather deteriorates or you feel tired, or extra possibilities if you find the run is shorter than anticipated.
- Always let someone know your route with its 'bail out' and extension options.
- Go with a friend - it's more fun and it's safer.
- Go prepared - and make sure you know how to use all your equipment, including map and compass.
- Enjoy! Look at the views, flowers and bunny rabbits en route, after all... you could be on the road instead!
Helene is a highly respected, successful, world-class fell runner. She was overall winner of the 2000 Western Isles challenge, beating all the men. In one summer she completed all 3 classic British 24hr rounds (Bob Graham, Welsh Paddy Buckley and Scottish Ramsay) and in 1992 conquered the 'Dragon's Back'a 220-mile 5-day race the length of Wales.
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