Running Across Hilly Terrain

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Including hilly/undulating routes as part of your weekly steady state running can be a good way to improve muscular strength, running economy, and aerobic and anaerobic power and can be a good preparation for running hill intervals. Another benefit is that during the downhill phases you will increase the propoprtion of work done through eccentric muscle contractions which will help to strengthen muscle fibres and provide some protection against delayed onset muscle soreness. A further benefit of running across undulating terrain is that the level of activation of individual muscles changes throughout the run, dependent on the slope (uphill, downhill, or flat) and helps to ensure that there is a more equal activation of different leg muscles during the run.

Although it is clearly beneficial to include some hill running in to your usual easy/steady continuous running, be careful not to include too much. Bare in mind that hill running depletes muscle glycogen levels more rapidly, raise your heart rate, increase the general intensity of the session whilst reducing the average speed of the run, compared with running on flat terrain.

Unless you are a fell runner, or targeting the cross country races, then you should only include one continuous run, across hilly terrain, per week. It appears to be particularly beneficial to incorporate a hilly route as part of your weekly long run, particularly if you include several long hills in the first 20mins of the run. This improves muscle fatigue resistance, and helps to speed the depletion of muscle glycogen during the long run, as muscle glycogen levels drop there is an increased emphasis on fat metabolism and this will help to train your muscles to be more efficient at utilising fat as an energy source.

Summary of running across hilly/undulating terrain

  • Including hilly/undulating routes into your easy/steady state runs can be a simple way to improve leg strength, running economy/exercise economy, and prepare you for the rigours of a hill interval session
  • The downhill phases of these runs can be a good way to strengthen muscle fibres eccentrically which will help to protect muscles against the effects of DOMS.
  • Helps to ensure different muscle groups are activated more equally during the run
  • One weekly run across undulating terrain is sufficient unless you are specifically training for fell runnning, or cross country races.
  • Incorporating hilly routes into the weekly long run may be a good way to speed muscle glycogen depletion.