Tips for Running Hills

Nepal trails...someday I'll get back there.
One of the most intimidating parts of trail running, especially for beginners, are the technical, steep hills. Run trails long enough, and you will eventually hit some calf-tightening, lung-busting snaky trails full of roots and rocks, hills that seemingly never end and will make you long for your toddler days when crawling wasn't humiliating. These same hills can also be the most rewarding and adrenaline-packed parts of trail running. With a few tips and some practice, all runners can improve on the hills, and, consequently running hills will make you a stronger, better overall runner.

After struggling up and down some pretty technical trails in the Canadian Death Race, I realized I really need to continue to improve my hill running. I found these tips from Matt Carpenter, who knows a thing or two about running hills (he is an 18-time winner at Pike's Peak and holds the course record for both the marathon and the ascent). I found these tips on his site

  1. To get fast on uphills, train fast on uphills. If you live in Kansas, crank up the grade on a treadmill.
  2. Taking “baby steps” will help you maintain a good cadence when your lungs are screaming for mercy. It’s like switching to granny gear on a mountain bike.
  3. On long, steady hills, switching often between walking and running is tempting, but it makes you lose momentum and cadence. Pick one or the other and go with it.
  4. Posture is everything on the uphill. Leaning forward from the hips puts too much pressure on your back, an erect posture will provide better push-off.
  5. Look ahead, not at your feet. This will allow you to pick the best line and free up your airway.
  1. Don’t over-stride, each landing will put extreme stress on your quadriceps.
  2. Lean forward not backward keeping your whole body perpendicular to the ground. Again this will save your quads and allow you to run faster.
  3. If you need to control your speed cut your stride length and increase your cadence. Like using the low gear in a car.
  4. Like a hurdler, step over, not on rocks and other obstacles. Keep your body level and lift your legs.
  5. Pick as straight a line as possible down the hill. The more you move left and right, the more you stress your legs and increase the distance.
Some great stuff here from Killian Jornet (my favorite: " has to train, there is no secret"):

An expert hill runner at work (the downhill at about 6:00 is insane):


  1. AMAZING! MIND blowing! LOVE it! awesome training tips maybe one day ill get there. Von

  2. that Olympus slabs climb is something else.
    the descent, well.. simply crazy. Must be a blast if you're not scared out of your mind.

  3. WOW!!! Is that a man or a mountain goat?! Absolutely love downhill running - I've got good balance and find it a real buzz, even though I can't actually 'run'!!! Your tips are perfect timing as I'm about to start some hill training - but it's the uphills I'm crap at and lose so much time on at the moment... Intervals are the training answer, so I'm told - time will tell!!! Thanks for sharing, such a great read :)

  4. Thanks Stephie -- one thing that really helps me on the uphills is to pay attention to my breathing. I never like it to get "ragged," especially on a long climb, because once you let it get there it's hard to recover and continue the climb. I try to go two strides for every breath. This ensures that I'm not pushing too hard and if my breath gets quick, then my stride has to shorten as well. I hope this helps.

  5. I love this. Hill training is my biggest problem. I am looking forward to using them in my workouts! :)


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