How to Run Hills… Without Hating Your Life

JAR Hill post

During my hill workout yesterday, I thought to myself, “Self, you are really good at running hills. Mayhap (I always talk to myself in Shakespeare) you should write about running hills. Because it’s not a topic that has been covered 7 million times or anything…”

I know. You can get actual knowledge from real experts about this exact topic. Most of which say you should lean in to the hill, slow your pace, shorten your stride, and use your arms to help power you up, then make your way down. I’ve actually listened to this advice when training, because WRITTEN BY EXPERTS, but I never found it helpful. To me I found it to be too much to think about while trying to do something hard. That simply doesn’t work in my brainspace. I’ll trip or something. Also, you look dumb leaning forward with a short stride, furiously pumping your arms. I might wear wacky compression socks in public, but I’m not about to look dumb, people.

So while I was chugging up that monster hill that I swear on all things holy (it’s in front of a monastery, so yeah) will get you in shape in a matter of days, I decided to put my own spin on things and talk about how me, a person naturally good at running hills, runs hills. I made a point to check in and make a list of the things I was doing to help you, my fellow runners.

Flat backs, people. 

I used to have a skating coach that would scream, “FLAT BACK!” because a natural tendency for a human is to either break at the waist and pitch forward when things are physically hard, or sit back on your heels and arch your back. A flat back is important for both going up and down hill because you will want to break at the waist while you climb, then sit back on your heels when you descend while arching your back. Both will get you eating chips on the couch rather quickly because these postures will get you injured. So think “belly button to spine” which will engage your core muscles and make your glutes handle the work. Yes, you will pitch a bit going up, and lean back a bit going down because gravity is a thing, but you will have your body in alignment and working efficiently.

Put your booty in it

Like I briefly touched on in the last point, you want your glutes (your big ol’ butt, anatomy flunkies) to do the work. They are one of the largest muscle groups in your body, and are built to handle some work. Not your hamstrings, not your knees, your glutes. This is where foot placement comes into play. You have to…HAVE TO…have a forefoot strike. Even if you try to strike oil and heel strike your heart out when the hill is over, while you’re doing your thing ascending and descending, STAY OFF YOUR DAMN HEELS. This will engage your glutes, take the stress off your knees and hamstrings, and let the big muscles handle the big job.

Don’t mess with your stride or pump your arms like crazy

Your stride isn’t going to make or break your hill speed. Maybe it does if you’re like, a real runner, but for we mere mortals, we aren’t typically climbing mountains, and our regular old middle of the pack stride is just fine. Also, don’t flap your arms and pump them like a mental patient. All that’s going to do is make you tired and give you a side ache…and you will look really dumb. Like, really dumb.


I always take a deep breath at the base of a hill and just start chugging. The faster you get up, the faster you’re done. Because they’re hard work, you tend to puff like you’ve shoveled asbestos your whole life and pretty much give yourself a coronary by the time you get up the hill. This is where I like to use good ol’ Yoga breath. Breathe in for three counts, breathe out for three counts. It also keeps your mind off the “Holy freaking cow I’m on a freaking hill that isn’t going to end, I’m probably going to die here, and oh yeah, I HATE MY LIFE.”

Distract yourself

Mind games always work. Just like I pointed out in the last post, doing something like counting your breathing will occupy so much space in your simple animal brain, you will simply forget you are dying whilst running up a hill. Some runners I know do math, I happen to be rapping my favorite Jay-Z song as loud as possible because I don’t want to look dumb, I want to sound insane…whatever you have to do to get your mind off the task at hand, pull a Nike and just do it.

I’m not an expert, but I’m good at getting this body of mine up hills pretty easily so maybe a little bit of what I do will help you. Or maybe it’s more useless running information you file in the back of your mind. Really though, the only way to get really good at running hills is to…um…run them. Don’t treat this like a speed workout on the track (me) and put it off. You’re going to be at the end of a 15k race when you turn the corner and oh look, there’s a monster hill and you’re going to go up that thing hating your life and wonder why you didn’t run more hills. So go run some hills already!


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