On distance runs, the cross country runner will frequently encounter hills as part of their training routine since most trails and roads have slopes. Still, in order to become more efficient at tackling the demands of hills, periodic hill-focused training will benefit the athlete.
- Going uphill, the runner should have a slight forward body angle in order to drive up the hill. This puts the body in a pushing position. (See figure 1)
- The athlete should be running on the ball of the foot, since the ground passing behind them is lower than the ground in front.
- If the athlete is heel-striking while going uphill, it's likely due to over striding.
- Initial foot contact should be down below the hips on each running step.
- Arm stroke must be in sync with running cadence, and aggressive
- While running up an incline, the desired dorsiflexion of the foot on front-side mechanics is more instinctively attained (See front foot in Figure 1). In this way, hill running can help correct running form.
- By contrast, if the ankle joint is not dorsiflexed, the toe will drag against the rising ground in front of the athlete as the leg swings forward on each step.
SPECIFIC HILL TRAINING:
On most cross country courses the inclines encountered by runners are usually not more than a quarter mile long--with some rare exceptions. So hill runs of approximately 400 meters in length are a good training distance at which to workout.
- Train for hills by doing repeats
- 6 to 8 repetitions of 400m runs uphill, at race pace or slightly harder
- Recover between each repetition by jogging back downhill and starting uphill again after reaching the bottom
- Focus should be on driving up the hill, or attacking the hill
- Adhere to proper running mechanics at all times.
- Running on hills with an incline angle of around 10 degrees is usually steep enough. Anything steeper and the athlete won't be able to run at beneficial speeds for long enough. Above a 10 degree incline the repeats will have to be much shorter.
- If a 400m stretch of land that trends upward isn't available, then use a 200m or 300m hill, and add a few extra reps to the workout.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DOWNHILL:
Downhill running can take just as much out of an athlete as going uphill. Uphill running demands concentric strength and power. Downhill running demands eccentric leg strength and balance-- to maintain race pace without falling over.
So as a variation on the workout suggested above, runners should also occasionally do repeat runs on a slope that goes uphill half the distance, and downhill the other half. In this case, athlete would attack the uphill portion, and then try to go at race pace on the way down the other side. This will enable a runner to not only climb hills during competition, but also be able to absorb the beating on the legs that happens during downhill portions of cross country courses.
Many may not think of cross country runners as being powerfully strong athletes, but it does take strength to tackle hill running. While supplementary exercise such as the weight room may enhance general strength in the runner, there is no substitute for specific exercise such as actually running hills. If hill running requires strength, then strength levels will grow by running hills.
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Robert Marchetti, a former NCAA Division I track coach at Rider University and Columbia University, is a private track and field coach located in Hamilton, New Jersey. For more information, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit his website at www.coachup.com/coaches/robertm-4.