From the BMC – How to be hill fit: 12 tips to stay fast

Image by Alex Buisse

The best way to prepare yourself for the hills is to get out in the hills. But what if you can only get out once a month? Running guide Sarah Ridgway reveals her secrets to staying fast.

Simply, the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the hills; but there is no quick fix. John developed a consistent approach, set goals, and built it into his life. It doesn’t matter where you live: get moving on a regular basis, safely increase effort to build fitness, avoid high monotony (same route and distance, day after day), and set goals. If time is an issue, try running.

There are no excuses for not developing base fitness, but there are peculiarities about moving in the mountains that need specific training – such as technique and balance on uneven terrain, leg strength and endurance for continuous long climbs, and leg conditioning and core strength for continuous descents.

To help speed you along, here are my 12 tips to keep hill fit and stay fast:

1. Make it relevant

The best results are gained from sports specific to muscles used on the hill. Fast-walk local hills. No hills? Cycle and run. A brisk walk is better than nothing, but to improve you may have to be that person on the treadmill (set at Everest mode) with the 60L pack.

2. Add intensity

Find a steep road or stairs with 50-100m height gain: fast walk or run up then walk slowly back down. Repeat 4-6 times. Reverse for downhill training.

3. Memories of screaming calves and quads?

Prepare for big climbs by resistance training. Squats and lunges will get those butt muscles firing (and unless you work on engaging them they probably aren’t doing much for you right now). Core-muscle strength benefits balance.

4. Work on ‘skill fitness’

The better you are at navigating, the more mental energy you will have for walking exposed and technical terrain, as well as the confidence to blast out on your own without relying on other people.

5. Urban equivalents

Technical terrain takes concentration: the better you are, the more energy you’ll have for other tasks. Find the roughest trail near you (or just use steps), and practice trotting through a section. Think light-fast-feet. Get a feel for how your balance responds to slips on loose terrain.

6. Be prepared to travel

Find your nearest green space with trails and make an effort to blast out, even if for an hour.

7. Have goals

If you don’t actually get out on the ‘real stuff’ your motivation will wane. Make plans and commit to them.

Lack of confidence can also be an issue when you’ve not been on the hills for a while. Perhaps you haven’t been able to get your fitness good as you’d like or you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew. Here’s how to cope:

8. Know what you are up for

Study the elevation profile. Knowing how many big climbs you have to tackle can prevent those tantrum moments when presented with yet another mammoth ascent.

9. Eat, drink and be merry

The better hydrated and fuelled you are the better your recovery and enjoyment. Don’t stuff yourself to the point of discomfort before setting off; pack snack-sized amounts to have every hour while moving.

10. Pack efficiently

Invest time in understanding what you do and don’t need to carry. Err on the side of caution until experienced, but if you’ve never used those extra socks…

11. Maintain good technique

On uphills keep a sustainable pace. Avoid ‘Jesus moments’. You know them: you go off at break-neck speed. It feels great at first… then bang… lungs go, legs go, you’re bent over, hands on knees, gasping. Poles can help, but use them efficiently. On downhills think light-fast-feet and don’t tense up. An efficient descent makes for an easier climb, so don’t hammer down unless you’re happy to trash your quads. Don’t fight technical terrain or let it frustrate you. If you find yourself stumbling, tidy up your technique.

12. Have a nice cup of harden the…

Don’t upset yourself. If you’re finding it hard going up Elidir Fawr, remember it’s hard going up Elidir Fawr. Simply get your head down and concentrate on strong technique. Everyone has lows. It will pass. The highs do follow.

Lastly: chill out

At the end of the day, stretch calves, quads and glutes. Find a river and ‘leg dip’ for five minutes. Rest up, enjoy a hearty meal and you might find you are up for another big day tomorrow.
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