Tackle a Hill Head-On


a tall mountain in the fog

Photo: Vasek Rak (Shutterstock)

Did you find a new trail to run or hike for last week’s challenge? This week is another trail-compatible one, and I encourage you to find someplace fun to do it. But we’re going to take it up a notch, because I want you to specifically find a scary hill. And go up it.

What makes a hill scary? Sometimes, it’s steep. You’re worried about losing steam before you get to the top. If that’s the case, read our guide to running hills without crushing your confidence. Go slow, take tiny steps, and focus on keeping your effort level easy and steady while you work your way to the top.

Also, it’s okay to stop and walk. How do you think ultra runners do those 100-mile trail mountainous trail runs? Not by running every step, I can promise you that.

Sometimes what makes a hill scary is how long it is. You can use the same strategies there, but pacing yourself becomes even more important. On a really long hill, I like to keep my effort level as low as possible—jogging so slow my heart rate is no higher than when I’m on flat ground. And I still take walk breaks if I need them.

But there’s one other issue that comes up a lot for those of us who live in a hilly area: It’s that the hills are endless, and you’ll always encounter one when you’re least ready for it.

This is the challenge I tackled for myself this week. I live in a hilly neighborhood and there’s no way around it. I can’t even do something as simple as placing the biggest hill at the beginning-to-middle of the run, because there is always another hill somewhere. So I set out knowing that I was doing battle with a bunch of steep, long, uncomfortable hills. My challenge was not to rush up or even keep a good pace, but rather just to survive and not hate the journey. A couple strategies that helped:

  • Plan an out-and-back. This way, every hill I run up, I know that I’ll get to also run down.
  • Make the very first segment an uphill. This means I get a downhill for the home stretch on my way back.
  • Keep a constant monologue in my mind, pretending I’m running with an imaginary friend who hates hills.

It may be silly, but that last one kept me going on the most challenging parts. “This is the last uphill,” I told him, but sometimes I was lying. He was in awe of my ability to just keep chugging. I almost left him behind, but then Eminem’s “’Til I Collapse” came on at just the right time (he can listen through my earbuds, thanks to advanced imaginary-friend technology) and he made it through.

Whatever your fear of hills might be, I’d like you to challenge it this week. Go find a steep hill and run repeats up it, or find a long hill and slog it out, or do a series of unpredictable hills and stay the course. If you live in a hopelessly flat place, why not jog up some stadium stairs, or visit a parking ramp after hours? Give it a try and let us know how it goes.