Hill Running. What’s the big dealio?


I have told my intermediate running group time and time again how good it is to run in D-Town because it’s hilly – and clearly hill running is the bees knees. They tend to roll their eyes and grunt in frustration as we’re usually pounding up/down a hill at the time, but I’m sure in their minds they’re thinking ‘man, she is so wise, we are so lucky to have such a wise leader’.


The basic idea behind hill running in my mind is simple: it’s much harder to run up and down hills, which strengthens your  muscles, and means that not only will you be faster running on the flat surfaces, but you’ll also find it easier. Hill running is basically weight training whilst running – except that you’re also supporting your body weight at the same time, where as weights at the gym focus on muscle groups in isolation of your running. This is very good if you want to look like this:

Here we have Jay Cutler, a Mr Olympia champion, keeping it real at the gym

Here we have Jay Cutler, a Mr Olympia champion, keeping it real at the gym


But not so helpful if you want to do this:


And here is Kipsang just casually winning the London Marathon

And here is Kipsang just casually winning the London Marathon


The question is, how do you do it? Hill running isn’t easy, and puts your body under more strain than usual. So what secret techniques are there to help? Over the years I’ve picked up a few things, so here is my list:


Running Down Hill


When you run down hill, your muscles lengthen as you take your step. This puts your legs under more strain than regular running, and also causes tiny tears in your muscle fibres. Remember – the repairing of these tiny tears is what helps our overall fitness, which is how hill running is helpful. In addition to this, you’re also running with gravity, which will make you run faster than you naturally would, again stressing your body as you hit the ground harder.


When running down hill:

  • Run on a soft surface if available: the grass alongside the footpath is perfect for this. The softer surface will absorb some of the impact for you
  • Keep your feet under your body when you step rather than stride down – again, this will reduce the impact you feel in your legs, and it’s not necessary to use the knees to drive you forwards so much when running downhill
  • Tread lightly – keep your contact time with the ground to a minimum, landing on your mid foot rather than your heel
  • Lean forwards. This may seem counterintuitive – but it actually lessens the impact because your weight isn’t being pushed through your legs as you lean back to brake. Leaning forward slightly will help you stay smooth, and will help you use gravity as an advantage rather than as a hinderance. Different sources suggest leaning forwards from the hips or the ankles – but they all seem to agree it shouldn’t be from your shoulders. Personally, I think I do hips…
  • Watch your gaze – you should be looking at the hill surface, not at your feet. Keep your gaze about 1-2 metres ahead of where you’re running
  • If you find you’re going fast, then hold your arms out by your side for balance  rather than keeping them close. For me this really works: it slows me down, and engages my core more which helps stabilise me too. I do feel like a muppet when I’m doing this – arms flailing all over the place – but it really helps. And it’s the same principle as pole: if you’re spinning too fast, stick a limb out…
  • Also, if you’re going too fast, focus on those shorter strides until you feel that you’ve re-gained control
Why look at that downhill form there.

Why look at that downhill form there.


Running Up Hill


There may be some of the same characters in this list, but they will feel completely different to downhill when you put them into practice. Uphill running means that you’re running against gravity, which requires more effort, and your muscles contract. You also put more strain on your calf muscles. The result is a more powerful stride overall.



  • Aim for the same amount of effort running up the hill as on the flats - not the same pace
  • Shorten those strides again, and keep contact with the ground small so that you feel light on your feet
  • The short strides will help you maintain your breathing rhythm, which is very helpful. During the uphill, you’re probably relying on anaerobic respiration, so deep breathing will help mitigate the effects
  • Again, your gaze should be 1-2 metres in front of you so that your lungs are open and ready for oxygen!
  • Use your arm swing to help your momentum. Focus on pulling back rather than pushing forwards, and make sure your arms swing straight rather than across your body
  • Sometimes I find it helps to put my hands on my hips for a bit, which seems to focus all the efforts through your legs. I’m not sure how it helps, but it works for me. But only for short bursts: then go back to driving your arms
  • Try to maintain your overall running rhythm rather than slowing it down (smaller steps will help)
  • Lean into the hill, but not so much that it constricts your leg movement or shifts your centre of gravity forwards



So that’s hill running for you. I found that hill running has really helped my overall strength and stamina – and when you run anywhere that’s flat, it will seem like a breeze. Hopefully. A few hill reps is a great way of getting in a serious workout in less time too, so good  if you’re pushed for time. And honestly – there’s nothing like a hard hill session to make you feel like a hero at the end. A bloody hero. As long as you can push through the bit in the middle where you just. want. to. stop.


Enjoy those hills!! Let me know how you get on…


Ellie B




  1. Anon. (no date specified). Everything You Need to Know About Hill Running [WWW]. Available from: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/general/everything-you-need-to-know-about-hill-training/159.html [Accessed: 16th September]
  2. Anon. (no date specified). The Proper Technique for Running Uphill and Downhill [WWW]. Available from: http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/hill-running-form/ [Accessed: 16th September 2014]
  3. Jhung, L. (2010). Tips for Running Uphill [WWW]. Available from: http://www.runnersworld.com/trail-running-training/going?page=2 [Accessed: 17th September 2014] 
  4. Karp, J. (no date specified). 6 Tips to Improve Your Downhill Runs [WWW]. Available from: http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/6-tips-to-improve-your-downhill-runs [Accessed: 16th September 2014]
  5. Kuzma, C. (2014). Three Tips for Running Downhill [WWW]. Available from:http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/three-tips-for-running-downhill [Accessed 18th September 2014]
  6. Shaw, J. (2014). Perfect your downhill running form [WWW]. Available from: http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/perfect-your-downhill-running-form_52804 [Accessed 18th September 2014]

100 Mile July & Intro to Intervals

Well hot damn if we’re not already in the middle of July! When did that happen?


In my last update, I lamented the 7 missing miles which stopped me from reaching my goal. As penance, I set myself the target of 27 miles this week.  Admittedly, that might have been a little optimistic given that I had a trip to London for work. When in London, the allure of dinner and drinks with friends is strong competition for going home early to put my runners on….


So here’s how I went in week two:

  • Wednesday 9th: 3.5 miles with the JP Morgan Challenge
  • Friday 11th: 5 miles
  • Saturday 12th: 3.5 miles
  • Sunday 13th: 6 miles in the Great North 10k
  • Monday 24th: 6 miles (3 miles with Tempest Runners, 3 miles running home)
  • Tuesday 15th: 4.5 miles
  • Grand total…….28.5 miles!! (46kms)


This puts me on a total of 46.5 miles for the month, and only 3.5 miles short of where I need to be to hit 100. I am feeling strong at the moment, which makes it a pleasure to run. It is a challenge to find the time to run and log the miles, but a weekly goal means that the odd 3.5 mile run isn’t something to be scoffed at, but contributes to the whole. Which is a very different way to my approach to running, where distance is what matters.


This week I was VERY excited as it was SO HOT that I had to wear shorts and a hat

This week I was VERY excited as it was SO HOT that I had to wear shorts and a hat

On Monday night I introduced my running group to the wonderful world of interval training. We did a warm up, followed by: 1 min fast, 1 min recovery, 2 mins fast, 2 mins recovery, 3 mins fast, 3 mins recovery, and then decreased it back to 1 min again. At the end the group said that they didn’t mind them, so either we did them wrong or I didn’t work them hard enough. Or they’re lying to me, and the next time we do intervals, I’ll have an empty running group.


Why does interval training help? I wrote before on the benefits of high intensity training, and intervals are similar in that your body still feels the effects after you stop exercising. So, as you’re sitting on the couch eating your reward chocolate cupcake, your body is still working away = bonus!!


Intervals are typically two parts of a whole: the fast bit and the slow bit. You may also have heard them referred to as Fartleks, though I can’t quite bring myself to say it because I don’t appreciate anything even remotely related to with the bathroom. Sorry, I am a prude. Anyway, here’s a summary of what happens:


The Fast Bit

  • Your body relies on the anaerobic system for energy, which means it’s not using oxygen but glucose as it’s energy source (read calories)
  • The side effect of this is lactic acid, and as you work harder, the body can’t remove the acid quick enough. This is why it hurts so much!


The Slow Bit

  • You return to the aerobic system, and burn fat to help with the recovery process
  • Your body can start to remove the lactic acid buildup in your system


Why it’s a good workout:

Aside from the aforementioned fact that your body will be working long after you stop running, there are a few reasons why interval training is a good thing to do:

  • Your muscles learn how to work effectively at a faster speed
  • Your body becomes more efficient at lactic acid removal
  • Mentally you get used to powering through when you feel tired and sore
  • Your typical pace will feel easier after challenging yourself to run faster for a prolonged period of time
  • The variation will help you over-use muscles, and contribute to injury prevention
  • Over time your general speed will increase


This is how you should feel at the end of intervals.

This is how you should feel at the end of intervals.

Intervals are pretty intense. If you’re not a big runner, don’t over-do it, but stick to shorter times and recoveries. One of the hardest things for me is to know when I’m pushing myself the right amount, I figure as long as I feel like puking by the end then I’m on the right track. But – you heard it here first guys – I’m not an expert, and so don’t take that as an authoritative opinion! Plus, it actually takes a lot of commitment to get to that point in the first place.


I had the company of this guy when I arrived at work today:

photo 2-6

Happy intervals everyone!!


Ellie B

Real training, real pudding and real women

After our run on Saturday, we went to Lake Windermere and spent the afternoon in our very own rented motorboat. I get nervous with anything like this, where speed, motors and testosterone are involved, but luckily the boats for hire went at an embarrassing pace. Even I braved the open waters and drove it (Is drive even the right verb here?). We stayed at this lovely B&B, and drove back on Sunday in time for me to teach my pole class.


My pole competition is creeping up in July, and so during lunch I went and trained for an hour. The first fifteen minutes were awful and I was starting to really lose motivation. But then I looked in the mirror (there are loads in a dance studio!) and told myself to get a grip. Otherwise, in July, the audience will be in for a treat when I fall off the pole and land on my ass. It must have worked because the rest of the practice was fab!


The evening was a balmy 16 degrees, and the sunshine was calling me. So I did some interval training: 10*1 minute as fast as I could, with 1*1 minute recovery. I did this for 20 minutes, and with the warm up/cool down run I was knackered!

I felt extra smug that evening after that double workout as I tucked into my sticky chocolate pudding from Saturday’s race. I didn’t feel so smug when it took approximately 105 minutes to crawl the stairs to bed….Karma. You know what they say.

Part of the reason for starting this blog is like everyone else who does a running blog: to keep track of their training, and to keep them honest. I’m trying to use this to help me structure my trainings, and to increase the variety. I’m not good at doing intervals or hill training – I much prefer running at my own pace, but I’m not speeding up quickly enough.

So, potentially this is what I might try to work on (I am honestly committed to this, even though it might not sound like it!):

  • Monday: intervals
  • Tuesday: stretch/strength training
  • Wednesday: running with my club
  • Thursday: strength/stretch training
  • Friday: hills?
  • Weekend: long run

With some pole sessions thrown in there for fun – typically I train pole on Thursdays, and one extra day, but this will definitely be more leading up to the comp!

In other news, I read this article on what a “real woman” is. The intro is a bit much – no need to tell off the reader! – but the message is interesting. I’ve never thought that the message of “real women” could perpetuate the negative feelings overweight women may have. Whilst I also agree that there is an element of choice in how you look – exercise either is or isn’t a priority – I really hate the way women judge each other. Women judge when others eat too much, and women judge when others exercise a lot. Neither are free!


But I still aspire to look like the actresses and models in magazines, in spite of knowing how airbrushed they are, which is ridiculous! Maybe we should demand to see “natural women” on magazines instead of “real women” – it’s much more inclusive, and doesn’t have the same judgemental undertones….

Finally – my New Year’s Resolution is to take one photo each day. I thought you might like to see today’s:

People Management is at the back because I am a serious professional as well as a serious runner you know.

People Management is at the back because I am a serious professional as well as a serious runner you know.

Yep – lunch time today. Sunny back garden, and my magazines.