In the lead up to Christmas last year the MiNDFOOD team had a wonderful surprise sprung upon us by our Editor-in-Chief Michael McHugh.
We were split into teams for a MiNDFOOD version of ‘The Amazing Race’ – it was a fun adrenalin-filled day – and our first task was to drive to the top of Mt Eden in Auckland.
As we wound our way up to the summit by car I remember passing runners and cyclists and commenting, ‘These people are quite mad and I could NEVER do that!’
Well, this week, I ran to the top of Mt Eden without stopping! I know! Sure, I was slow and puffing, but I was astonished when I reached the top and saw the glittering lights of the city sprawled beneath as dawn broke. Views like these make running in the morning worth it.
I’m sure the fact that it was dark on the ascent, which is gentle, helped, as I couldn’t see what was in front of me and how far I had to go. I was supposed to stop and the power walk when I reached a chalk mark on the pavement but I missed it.
And while Mt Eden (also known as Maungawhau) is the highest volcano in Auckland city at 196 metres high, if you compare it with Mt Ruapehu (2020 metres high) it’s really just a hill. But even so, for me it was a personal triumph because when I started out on this journey eight weeks ago I couldn’t run up a hill without stopping.
Over the past few weeks I’ve also learned a lot about hill running techniques.
The easiest way to “learn to run hills” says Gaz Brown of GetRunning is to tighten up your stride, practise more and not push yourself.
“The reason people don’t like hills is they get the technique wrong, and they don’t practise them enough,” Gaz says. “It’s also important to practise at the level you need to practise it at.”
This means if you get to the top of the hill and can’t say your name you’ve pushed yourself too hard.
When it comes to hill running style you don’t want to swing your hips or extend your gait. Instead tighten up your stride because when you are running on a hill you want to meet the gradient. Push your hips into the hill, rather than the chest, to keep a good body position and always look to where you are going, not at your feet (as this tends to make you fold at the waist). Keeping your head up and ears over your shoulders helps maintain this position.
You also want to your foot to strike the pavement forefoot or mid-foot, not on the toes or heels. Running uphill on your toes puts too much pressure on the toes and calves. Landing on your heels on the downhill creates “too much of a stopping mechanism” and “juddering into the knees”.
Normally three or four times your body weight goes through your legs – ankles, knees and hips – when running but if you’re over striding it can be five or six times. That’s a lot of extra pressure on the joints.
“It’s all about foot placement and keeping the body quite tight where the knee is lifting closer to the body,” says Gaz. “This makes you more efficient by making the stride shorter.”
It’s the same when going downhill, keep everything tighter and controlled rather than at wildly out of control long gait. If you can hear your feet slapping on the pavement that means you are probably over striding and landing on your heels, which as already mentioned above increases the impact loading on your legs. Your feet should land underneath you with a soft landing, no slapping. Over striding also messes with your centre of mass.
“It’s like you’re working the hill like a truck and bringing the gears down. Then you just change the body position according to where you are at with the hill,” says Gaz. “As you are coming down you want to bring the pressure on to the front of your foot so that you’re helping yourself go down the hill, you’re not stopping yourself.”
According to Gaz when you get used to hills you don’t spend as much energy on hills as you think you should. You want to be quite strong and confident with them but always have something left at the top because you need that strength for coming down and you need that strength for the flats.
“When you burn yourself on hills it will wreck the rest of your run. So learn to do them more often, keep it quite tight, pull back the speed and glide out of it, and slowly regain breath and strength. It’s all about flow,” he says.