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Running The Hills Of Boston


In honor of all the runners in Charlotte who are towing the line in Boston, here are some tips and information on how to address and run the hills.   Although the landscape of the course show lots of downhill’s, there are uphill’s as well.  However, it is the downhill that will beat you up and actually have a greater chance of “ruining “your day.  Remember, biomechanics, form, knowledge and preparation  are paramount to having a good or bad race.

The Uphill:  When approaching a hill think about attacking the hill and which muscles you need to depend on to overcome gravity.  If you recall from my last article, we spoke about stored elastic energy.  This is an important concept to understand to be able to run efficiently uphill.  We depend on the posterior chain of muscles to propel us up the hills.   Calf muscles as well as glutes and hamstrings are critical for performance.  Foot strike needs to be more of a mid-foot or some forefoot to deal with the slope of the road.  We need elastic energy in the Achilles and calf to drive us forward.  As always, there is quite a lot of information, opinions, theories, fads and running “guru’s” who will tell you what proper form should be.  I prefer the laws of physics. There needs to be a balance of how much and where to lean from to gain momentum and drive you up the hill yet, still allow for maximum extension of the hip.  Remember, extension of the hip is probably the most important factor in endurance, marathon running.  We need to lean somewhat, but the lean appears more dramatic due to the incline of the road.  The common fault is leaning too much. If you lean too far forward, you inhibit your glut muscles from being able to extend the hip.  The more hip extension, the more elastic energy from your hip flexors are stored (psoas primarily, the drive portion of the gait cycle).  If the leg is extended fully, you also will have a better toe off from your calves. Upright posture with a slight bend or “tuck” of the waist to stack the low back vertebra and slight ankle lean seems to be the best approach. Upright and tall with strong core and flexible hip flexors make a good recipe for uphill form.  Posture is key.  The good about uphill running is it helps to build power by driving your legs and hips up the hill.

The Downhill:

Downhill running is hard on your legs, period.  If not properly trained, this can and will ruin your race.  It’s easy to get caught and go out too fast in Boston.  Specific training is essential to your performance.  Quad muscles, ankles, knees, low back and hips are under enormous force and stress in the downhill part of the course.  Make sure you have plenty of runs in your training that will mimic both uphill and downhill portions of a course.

Form and posture again are crucial.  Learn to take advantage of “free speed” with the downhill, but be careful with your form.  When the road starts to slope down, lean into it, with a forward posture.  This will keep you from breaking too much by avoiding heel strike.  However, overstriding is a big factor here.  Shorten the strike with an increase in cadence.  Think about soft feet and landing and try to reduce the tendency of bounding.  Higher cadence leads to less impact or shock with every step.  If you start to increase speed too much, leaning slightly back is OK. But realize, this will cause slowing down and breaking with force. Here is the key: Try and keep your torso as close to the center of mass (your pelvis) as possible. If you increase your cadence and step, you will stay balanced and not lose control on the downhill speed. 

It is not too late to add some exercise and work to your program to help prepare your body.  Boston is almost here so do not incorporate anything you feel is too aggressive for your body at this time.  Add lunges to your routine.  These will open up your hips and strengthen your hips and posterior chain.  Lateral, backwards and forward lunges are great.  We want eccentric exercise to lengthen our muscle for running and strengthen them at the same time.  It is too late to start with plyometric exercise but, if you have been doing these, great.  I have included one video for a great eccentric hamstring exercise.  However, this is advanced and should only be done with some guidance.

Lastly, while running Boston this year, take some time to remember our friends and fellow athletes.  Remember all who were affected.  Remember our local friends and family Nicole, Michael and Erica.  Show the world we are resilient and strong.  Have a great day out there.  BE STRONG STAY STRONG!