Better go find a hill ...
I recently ran over the Naval Academy Bridge. It carries Route 450 across the Severn River, extending from West Annapolis and (you guessed it) the Naval Academy over toward Jonas Green Park. This run is kind of an adrenaline rush: cars go whooshing past every 10 to 30 seconds, and you get a great view of Annapolis once you get to the top of the bridge. There's a sidewalk and a bike lane on this bridge, making the run itself very safe.
But here's the thing: I almost bypassed this running route altogether, which would have been a major bummer for two reasons. One, the view is great. There's nothing that can make you feel more on top of the world than getting up to a high vantage point and realizing that your own two feet took you there. Two (which is also the reason I wanted to bypass the bridge), it's a great hill workout. The bridge is about a half-mile long slope. Now, half a mile doesn't seem that long, especially when you consider the second half is all downhill. But throwing a quarter mile upward slope into the middle of your run, which is otherwise completely flat (being at sea level and all), can be majorly exhausting. Not to mention, I had to turn right back around and do it all over again.
As runners, we avoid hills. I think that's a universal truth. Heartbreak Hill is called Heartbreak Hill for a reason, you know. There's no way around it: running hills is hard because it's resistance training. It works your muscles harder than running on flat land because it throws in a little bit of an extra gravitational pull. But that's also why you should go find the hills as often as you can, even if you like running on pancake-flat plains. Here's how hill running can help you through the hurt:
1. Strength training for your legs.
We just said it, but it's worth talking about some more. Running uphill works your muscles extra hard, but also engages ones you don't normally have to work when you're running on flat ground. You're getting a well-rounded workout as you plug your way up that hill, and you're becoming a stronger athlete all over. Not to mention, strengthening your hip flexors and Achilles will give you that little oomph over the other runners in the field. Also, both of those areas are prone to injury for runners. Making them stronger can only help you.
2. Strength training for your arms.
Sounds a little counter-intuitive, right? Running is for your legs, not your arms. WRONG! You can get a good arm workout while running hills because you have to drive your arms harder than you do when running on flat ground. Seriously, use your arms to help carry you up that hill. Swinging them builds momentum and helps your legs move faster. So you're working those biceps sans the gym!
3. Speed training.
Are you a master of the marathon shuffle? Sprinting is not for you, right? Well, fear not, distance runners! A hill workout is speed training in disguise. Throwing some hills into your weekly workout routine works the same muscles you use when you sprint. So as you're muscling your way up that massive hill, just think about how much faster you're going to be – and all without the pain of a track workout! Plus, have you ever run on flat land after running hills? Feels 10 times easier, right? It's a mental exercise, too!
It's hard not to feel proud of yourself once you're standing at the top of a hill, breathing hard. But you don't have to climb Everest today. Start small and work your way, well, up!
What do you think? Are hills a regular part of your running routine? Let us know in the comments!
The Run-Around is a weekly feature, focusing on fitness in and around Annapolis, MD.