Unless conveniently geographically located, as a runner you’re bound to hit a hill – or two. Although daunting at first, uphill running provides many benefits for quickly increasing your capabilities as a runner, as well as your overall health. Whether you’ve just started running or been at it for a while, incorporating hills into your training routine can have some killer results.
No stranger to a challenge, ultarunner and On athlete Florian Neuschwander put his fast-paced running style to the test on June 13 when he completed a full marathon (42.2 km) with an elevation of 2,000 meters in less than three hours. Having already smashed the 50 km treadmill record earlier this year (read more about this and the benefits of treadmill running here), Florian is known for his can-do attitude when it comes to endurance running.
If you’re not quite as fast about running as Flo, then fear not. Not many are. Uphill – and downhill – running can be quite strenuous on the body (read more here on how to apply proper technique when tackling the uphill). But there are some serious benefits to running uphill that you might not be aware of.
Read below to find out how Flo managed the Rossfeld Panorama Strasse on the day, as well as seven great reasons why you should run uphill too. Here for the tips? Click here.
On: So Flo, tell us why you chose this particular challenge?
Florian: I’ve done a lot of marathons in my life so far. I’ve lost count of how many, maybe 100, or even more in training. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that the marathon with the most vertical meters was under 2,000.
I wanted to challenge myself in this aspect, but also wanted to do it in a good time. You can’t keep up such a good pace on the trails, so I looked for a route and found the Rossfeld Panorama Strasse.
The road is 1,000 vertical meters. So I thought to myself “okay just two times up and down and that’s it.”
You make it sound like nothing, but 1,000 m twice over is quite tough on the body – why do you like running uphill?
I really like running uphill because at the end you’re up on a mountain with a great view. It‘s so nice to look down from the top and see where you came from. Especially after a really big climb, it‘s rewarding and nice to just sit down at the summit and relax.
As an ultrarunner, how does adding uphill running to your training regime enhance your endurance?
Uphill running makes you strong. After the hills, the flats feel like you’re flying. I like going outside and picking a new mountain to run up. It feels like an adventure. Sometimes I challenge myself and other times I just like to run easy without stress.
How was the marathon on the day? Was the uphill or downhill more challenging?
The first up and the first downhill were really ok and quite relaxed. My plan was to stay comfortable until half time.
The second uphill was really tough! It was already really hot and the sun was burning. I had to fight and lost time. In the first half I was around 1:30 min in front of my sub 3:00 hour target but on the second climb I lost a lot of time. On the top I was quite tired but it was “only” a 10 km downhill left.
So I pushed hard in the last 9 km in a 3:09 min/km pace to finish. It was close, but I made it under my 3:00 hour goal in 2:59:42.
1. Endurance and Speed
Both endurance and speed have their role to play in any run. Uphill running has the benefit of working on both aspects at the same time.
The added energy needed for each stride while running uphill, though tough at the time, will leave you with more fuel in the tank in the long run. It will also increase your mental endurance, which can play a big part in reaching your goals.
When it comes to the speed, uphill running uses the same muscles that are typically reserved for sprinting. Hill repeats are a big part of all sprinter's training regimes.
To run a hill repeat, go as fast as you can for a few hundred meters uphill, and then recover by jogging back down. Repeat. It really is that simple, but can be a great tool for quickly boosting your uphill confidence and speed.
2. VO₂ Boost
Although running uphill can be tough on the legs and send your heart rate soaring into anerobic zones, your body is undergoing a potentially significant VO₂ boost. What’s VO₂? In the simplest terms, your VO₂ max is how well your body is able to consume oxygen. The higher your VO₂ max, the better you can run, as your body can take in and deliver more oxygen to muscles.
We’ll spare you the science lesson and get straight to the point. When running uphill, your cardiorespiratory fitness increases, causing you to quickly improve your strength, speed and power. You may find the hills tough at first, but by adding them into your training routine and increasing your VO₂ max, you’ll decease your time when running flat distances.
Added benefits? You’ll fatigue slower, recover faster and feel less stressed. Not bad, right?
When running with a caloric goal in mind, many believe that increasing distance will equal an increase in calories burnt. This tried-and-tested system might get you the results you’re looking for, but there are far less time-intensive (and more varied) ways of achieving the same goal.
You don’t need to increase your speed or distance. Rather, by simply adding some elevation to your run, you’ll be burning extra calories in no time. The actual amount depends on the incline, but overall you should meet your goal in less time and, hopefully, enjoy the challenge of pushing uphill too.
In order to understand the gravity of the situation (pun intended), it’s best to think of uphill running as a form of resistance training.
Uphill running strengthens our bodies in more direct places than flat runs can. If lifting weights is not for you, then uphill running might just be the next best thing.
You’ll build up muscle in your calves and glutes, of course, but when running uphill it’s important to focus on holding your core tight and swinging those arms. So, you’ll also be increasing your core and upper body strength.
Even though racing isn’t currently on the cards for many of us, it’s good to be prepared if it’s your goal for the future. When getting race ready it's important to put in the time and distance needed, especially when training for a half or full marathon.
But uphill running can be a great added feature to any training schedule. With increased endurance from all that cardio work, you’re set to be in racing shape when the opportunity presents itself.
It’s also common to come across a few hills on the race track, so you might want to be mentally and physically prepared for that aspect of the race.
6. Injury Prevention
The best way to avoid any running-related injuries is to train on all types of terrain. That said, it’s best to not start off by running up or down any hills, but rather warm up properly on flat surfaces before embarking on your uphill journey.
Going uphill requires a solid warm up, good technique and a “mind over matter” attitude. But when running downhill, make sure you run in a shoe that provides good cushioning and stability to avoid impact on knee joints.
Let’s face it, even the best and most consistent runners often crave a change of scenery from time to time. If flat-distance running has always been your go to, then try mixing it up by facing a hill.
You’re likely to feel a big difference in terms of the mental strength needed to keep going on the uphill, so there’ll be very little room for boredom to creep in.
The satisfaction of reaching the summit is also pretty unbeatable, and the constantly changing view can do wonders to keep your mind busy.
Now you know the benefits, it’s time to get to work. And remember, what goes up must come down. So push through the uphill, take a moment to enjoy the view, and unwind on the downhill.
Dressed to hill, Florian opted for a perfect warm-weather, fast-paced combination. Get the look: