Hills are an acquired taste, and sometimes you’ve got to pretend you like them before you can actually like them. A friend whom I ran with in high school loved hills, and would drag me around the ridgeline trail system that, I was convinced, was hell in Eugene.
Granted, her quads were trunks of sequoia sculpted from iron, while mine, if we were going to describe all legs as a type of tree trunk, might better be described as something more modest… like an aspen, and could not withstand as much. When I began training in college without her to drag me up the hill, I started telling myself “I am Katie—I love running hills,” and it eventually worked. That being said, lying to yourself isn’t the only way to get yourself excited about integrating some uneven surfaces into your routine. There are plenty of reasons to learn to like hills, so allow me to try and convince you.
Usually hill runs are a chance to take a break from the concrete. It’s well known that too much pavement-pounding can potentially lead to shin splints and other injuries, but, just as importantly, it can also lead to boredom. Running on a winding trail, even if more exhausting physically, is a nice mental break from being able to see down the road to that third stoplight you’re telling yourself to make it to before you turn around.
You could also turn cool views you might otherwise plan for during a hike into rewards for your grind up to the top. You can’t tell me that the views from Spencer’s, Pisgah, or Mt. Baldy aren’t much more of an enticing turn around point than that third stoplight.
Another thing about running hills that is rather unnatural—other than actually liking to run up them—is the technique you should use when you do run them. You’re supposed to charge up the steep part—the part that your quads are begging you to walk up—and recover on the downhill—the part that’s most fun to run because gravity is doing the work for you.
This is part of why I like running up Spencer’s Butte from the Willamette Street Trailhead on the Ridgeline trail—you get all of the uphill out of the way on the first half, have a great view to enjoy as you stretch and recover at the top, and then get to tear down the hillside like a crazy person. So you get the workout, as well as the rewarding and fun part.
The coolest part? Though they hurt more, when running hills you can run less mileage and still get as good as, or a better, workout. Even in college, hill workouts were usually about 50% of the mileage that our normal daily run would be. Also, if you usually incorporate weight lifting into your weekly routine, hills will not only give you a cardio workout, but a strength workout as well. While this may feel like cutting corners at first, if you’re truly getting after it as you charge uphill, you’ll be able to feel in your body during and afterwards that you’ve done just as much work.
One warning before you get started: hills will make you feel way out of shape at first, so don’t get discouraged. You can be in perfectly good shape and still not be in “hill-shape,” and even after you’ve gotten into “hill-shape,” it still has a way of kicking your butt. That being said, it also has a way of making every other run feel easier, and it will undoubtedly make you faster.
Some hill runs in the area to check out are the Ridgeline Trail System, I’d recommend Willamette Street, Martin Street, or Springwood Boulevard Trailheads. While Hendrix Park has become part of the Ridgeline System, the streets within the park are just as hilly, and are easy to get turned around in, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
One more piece of advice: while many runners and hikers feel perfectly safe roaming the ridgeline trails, for extra peace of mind I like to bring along a pepper spray keychain when I’m running forested trails alone.
Until next time, I’ll see you on the trails!