Friday, September 2, 2011

Hills, the Chi Way

I was so pleased with my September weigh in at Weight Watchers this morning that I went a little crazy today with my eats.

We walked for about an hour to get to the site of the annual Greekfest (read FEAST) that happens to be one of my favorite food extravaganzas in this area and something we look forward to every year.  But I was pretty conservative and only ate one pork and lamb gyro with tzatziki and greek salad on it.  I didn't take the camera along, on purpose, so I wouldn't have to expose myself and my appetite!

Too full for dessert, we sat and enjoyed a bit of the live entertainment, and then walked for an hour back to the house.

I spent some time this afternoon, reading a few more chapters of Chi Running.  I have been having pain-free runs and walks since I started using this technique for both running and walking and I am convinced that it is for me.

I have discussed it with The Captain too and he just seems to naturally move this way - he has never been a heel striker like I realized I naturally am was before I made the effort to change. 

I think overstriding was my biggest mistake... My long legs want to reach out like a galloping horse does, and then I am not only pounding my heels into the ground, but that impact comes up my legs and drives into my knees.  It is also hard on the quads.

Today I was looking for information about how to run up hills.  There are so many of them in this neighborhood and they cannot be avoided.  I was sure that there would be a prescribed strategy and was not disappointed.

I made some notes ... sometimes when I write things down I retain them more readily - a holdover from my school days and also many years of studying throughout my career as a computer geek in the financial services sector,  I guess.

Here is what I wrote down...

Uphill Running
  • increase upper body effort and reduce lower body effort
Easy to Moderate Hills
  • lean into the hill
    • keep upper body ahead of hips and feet
  • don't step ahead of your hips
    • keep shoulders ahead of hips and hips ahead of feet
    • this prevents overuse of hamstrings
  • swing arms forward and up
  • shorten your stride length
  • relax your lower legs
  • keep your heels down
    • avoid overworking lower leg muscles
    • don't run on forefoot - too much energy spent working small muscles to do a big job
  • use mental images
    • imagine yourself floating up the hill like a you are a hot air balloon
The hot air balloon is a good visual for me as we did a sunrise hot air balloon ride one lovely summer morning, over Calgary, a few years ago and I can easily recall the feeling as we lifted off the ground and floated into the sky.

Steep Uphills
  • run sideways
    • do a tiny crossover step so you can keep your heels down
    • face toward 10 o'clock and do 6 to 8 strides
    • turn and face 2 o'clock for 6 to 8 strides
    • work your way up the hill switching back and forth this way 

Going uphill, facing 2 o'clock, left shoulder into the hill
  • swing your downhill arm across your body reaching up for your shoulder
  • shift to 'granny' gear
    • shorten your stride
    • slow down your cadence
  • lean into the hill with  your uphill shoulder
    • lean with enough intent to feel as if you're leaning your should into a door to break it open
  • walk if you need to

Downhill Running
  • switch the emphasis to your lower body
  • neutralize the impact
Runable Downhills
  • loosen your hips, stretch out your stride, and let gravity pull you
  • relax everything from the waist down
  • keep your cadence steady
    • let your stride length increase
  • lean downill
    • regulate your speed with your lean
  • hold your C shape with a level pelvis
  • let your pelvis rotate more
    • this allows your stride to open up behind you reducing the shock to your knees and quads
  • relax your ankles
    • don't dorsiflex your ankles
    • try pointing toes as legs swing forward to avoid a hard heel strike
  • relax your mind
    • surrender to the speed, Grasshopper.
Okay, I love this reference to an old tv show called Kung Fu.  It starred David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin Master, travelling in the wild West on a quest to find his brother.  His master called him Grasshopper.  I have a young friend I think of as Grasshopper.  But, I digress.

Non-Runnable Downhills
  • if you find yourself 'putting on the brakes' a change of technique is in order
  • control your speed with your 'gas pedal'
    • let your lean revert to vertical to slow down
  • take very small strides and peel up your heels with each step
  • zigzag down the hill if there is enough room
  • relax your shoulders and keep them low
  • balance yourself in a vertical position directly over your heels and let your weight ride softly on your heels
    • this will direct the shock absorption to the back of your legs
    • as your foot comes down, roll heel-to-toe to further reduce impact

There will be lots of opportunity for me to practise this over the weekend.  The house we are staying in is on the crest of a hill... either direction from here is DOWN.  So, if nothing else, I can just go out and practise running up and down this hill!

Do you change your technique for hills?

Any advice or thoughts to share about this?


  1. Hmm awesome info. Hills are always tricky! I don't run hills as much as I should, mostly because of fear!

  2. LOVE that you posted about this. thank you so much for the tips. i learned a lot and realized there is much i can improve upon. especially on the uphill. i tend to run on my toes uphill and it takes a lot out of me. i also like the idea of leaning into the hill and focusing on working my upper body over my lower. sounds much less taxing!!! good luck on the hills this weekend!

  3. This is really interesting! I tend not to think about my running downhill technique, because the uphills are so much harder. I always end up needing to "put on the brakes" as you wrote.


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