I just returned from a trip to Nashville, for the Country Music Marathon where the hills are plentiful and so is the country music! I was there to speak at the Expo and I can tell you it is one of my favorite half marathons. Mostly because I love to run hills. Living in Chicago, I am hill-deprived and have to drive 30 minutes to get to what most people would call a bump in the road.
While speaking in my clinics I noticed whenever I talked through the course, the crowd began to look worried, scared and very nervous. I figured out it wasn't because they were all first-timers, it was because it IS a very hilly course. But a fun, hilly course. The key to racing on hills is to "make friends" with the hills. You've got to "be the hill" and not "be afraid of the hill."
Most people dread running hills because they go at it in the least effective way. They run it hard to the top, trying to maintain the same pace as on the flats and that just doesn't work. Well, it works if you enjoy pain, suffering and being completely spent by half way through the race!
The key to racing hills is to run them like a cyclist, efficiently. What do cyclists do when they head into a hill? One, they anticipate, two, they change gears and three, once they get to the top, they change gears again and use the downhill to gain speed and momentum for the next one. Runners can do the same. Try this the next time you run a hilly course. It not only works, but you will end up loving hills by the end of the run...I promise!
When running up the hill, keep your EFFORT level (not your speed or pace) the same as what it is on the flat (in essence you are switching gears like a cyclist) So let's say you are running a 10:00 pace before the hill, you will have to slow your pace to maintain the same effort level (breathing rate, heart rate...). Trust me, this works. You will begin notice a lot of runners pass you. Let them go... Keep your stride length shorter, your torso tall and focus only on your effort level. Once you reach the peak of the hill switch gears again extend your stride, lean slightly into the hill and let it pull you down. This is key. If you think "let go" and really let the hill pull you down like a cyclist you will hit the base of the hill faster than you might have if there was no hill! Plus, you mix up your muscles, have a strategy to focus on mentally and it makes for a fun race!
Try it, you just may like it and it sure beats cursing at the hills.