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The secret to running well on the flat is to run up hills



 The secret to running well on the flat is to run up hills

by John Doughty, Can Too Coach

Everyone hates the sensation of burning legs and labored breathing from running up hills so most people are relieved when they find out an upcoming running challenge is on a flat course and think that means no hill training is necessary.

However, Can Too Coach John Doughty says this is the wrong approach, and explains that running up and down hills makes you a stronger runner on the flat.

“Even if you’re training for a flat race like RunWest you still should train on hills as it’s a form of strength training which builds stamina,” explains ‘Coach John’.

“One of the most important things is to not just run up hills but to also practice how to run down them.”

John’s step by step guide to running hills:

How to run uphill

  1. Shorten your stride length.
  2. Keep your foot turnover constant (keep moving).
  3. Lean slightly into the hill, but don’t bend at the waist, stand tall with a slight forward lean.

When running downhill

  1. Make sure your feet land underneath, not in front of, your body to prevent jarring.
  2. Lean forward (not too far that you lose control) to take advantage of gravity and almost feel like your falling down the hill.
  3. You can stretch out your arms horizontally to aid balance.


It helps to think of mental cues: ‘stand tall’ and ‘lean and go’ to remind you to maintain your running form, especially when you’re tired.

The hills are alive with the sound of breathing

It’s best to start practicing on a gentle slope then get steeper and steeper. When you progress to a more advanced level you can run harder up hills for effective interval training.

Stairs are also effective to train up and down on, along with inclines they help with injury prevention.

Start slowly

It’s important when you start on stairs and hills that you don’t do too many too quickly. It’s best to slowly increase the amount of hills and stair repeats as your run program progresses. In a similar way to adding 5% – 10% to your long run distance each week, you can add in some more inclines or stairs weekly.

The key is not to overdo it, to start slowly to progressively increase the load. A gradual build up prevents injury.

You don’t run your race distance of 12kms in your first week of training, you start at 3km and work your way up, it’s the same with hills, start short and build up to it.

Start with hills then build speed

Generally, hill training should be introduced in the first half of a run program, as it builds a good running base of strength and endurance. In the second half of a program it’s a good idea to work on speed, with intervals and Fartlek (Swedish for speed play) sessions, which alternates between fast segments and slow jogs.

“If you try and go fast without building a base you can get injured.”

John who has completed half, full and ultra-marathons, trail runs and events including the Narrabeen All Nighter, a 12-hour trail race where he ran 103 kms, says that this method of segmenting hills and speed training ‘works for me’ and for athletes that he’s trained.

The other good news is that if you train on hills you should have an advantage over your competition, as many competitors may have avoided inclines for a flat course. And the more you train on hills the easier you’ll find them.

Can Too offers NAB RunWest training sessions from January 2019, more info here.