How to run hills, part 2


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


So much for the theory of hill running – now I have some practical wisdom to impart, after participating in my first World Mountain Running Championships on Sunday. For instance, sometimes walking is better than running…


The race was in Slovenia, just outside the town of Kamnik, on a course that climbed more than 1,200 metres in 12 kilometres. With the exception of a few hundred metres of steep downhill about two thirds of the way up, it was pretty much relentlessly uphill from the outskirts of town to a rocky peak at the top. It took just under an hour for the winners to climb (and definitely over an hour for me!)

I’m still not entirely sure what my limiting factor was. There’s no doubt that my legs were burning as we climbed, but I was also breathing very heavily. After about four kilometres, I slowed to walk a particularly steep section – and found, to my surprise, that I didn’t lose any ground to the competitors around me who were still trying to run. After that, I mixed in quite a few short stretches of walking. Not something I’d anticipated or am particularly proud of, but it just seemed like the fastest way to the top. I ended up in 91st place out of about 150 competitors – not quite what I was hoping for, but a good first attempt at the discipline. The Canadian men’s team placed 13th out of 24 teams, led by a fantastic 30th place finish by Kris Swanson. Maria Zambrano led the Canadian women with a 23rd place.

The next day, my teammates and I hiked up Mount Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia (and one that, apparently, all Slovenians “must” climb at some point in their lives). We ended up jogging up (and down) a significant portion of the route, allowing us to finish what would otherwise be quite a long hike in under eight hours and get back to the cars in daylight. Surprisingly, my legs felt absolutely fine – which tells me that it was (lack of) aerobic fitness that was holding me back during the race, not my legs.


One Reply to “How to run hills, part 2”

  1. The uphill running is very easy to recover from. It’s not very hard on the legs at all. But it is true that just being an aerobic monster is really the best thing. Lots of the mountain running guys do very high mileage, and are not necessarily great with flatland racing, since their turnover is lacking.

    I noticed one of the American women commented post-race exactly what I had said about the Euros flying on the flatter sections. Gotta watch out for that!

    Will you be back again next time? Give the up-down a shot?

Comments are closed.