HillRunner.com https://www.hillrunner.com The site for everyone who loves running. Thu, 30 Jul 2020 22:12:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 https://www.hillrunner.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hr-icon-100x100.png HillRunner.com https://www.hillrunner.com 32 32 Relax and win https://www.hillrunner.com/relax-and-win/ https://www.hillrunner.com/relax-and-win/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=53365 Continue reading "Relax and win"

Staying relaxed late in a race helps you finish faster

What do you do late in a race? When you need to go a little faster, how do you respond?

If you’re like most runners, you dig deep. You push yourself and strain for that last possible bit of effort. It makes sense. Run faster by exerting more effort.

Is this the best way to run faster, though?

When we start to dig, we strain. We tense up and fight against ourselves. Our muscles tighten up and work against each other instead of working in coordination with each other, one muscle relaxing as the opposing muscle tenses.

This causes us to work harder for no gain or even our own detriment. Instead, we would be better served to stay relaxed and focus on adjustments in our mechanics. Focus on pushing off a little harder to lengthen your stride. Focus on increasing your stride rate. Don’t just strain and work against yourself.

I know how hard this advice is to practice. I’ve known this is what we should be doing but I still fall victim in races to straining for every last bit of effort. I’m a work in progress. I hope you will also consider making yourself a work in progress. But how? When you’re fatigued late in a race, it’s hard to think clearly. You’re on autopilot. The last thing I want you thinking about is a blog post I wrote.

So what do you do then? Like most things you want to do on race day, you need to practice this in training. You need to practice it so much that it just becomes automatic.

In your next workout, try something a little different. When you are late in the workout and want to pour on a little more effort to finish strong, don’t just think “run harder”. Think “quicker steps” or “push off a little harder”.

This won’t absolve you of running harder. You have to push harder to take those quicker steps or to push off a little harder to lengthen your stride. What it does is focus your effort. It points the extra effort you’re expending in a productive direction instead of letting that effort go wherever it may, which often means unproductive directions.

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There is room in the middle https://www.hillrunner.com/there-is-room-in-the-middle/ https://www.hillrunner.com/there-is-room-in-the-middle/#respond Thu, 23 Jul 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68764 Continue reading "There is room in the middle"

This month, I’m going to bring up a couple topics and expand on them a little more than normal for a recap post. Then I’ll throw a bonus link or two at the end. Fewer links, a little more in depth this time.

To start, we all are familiar with hard/easy training. I’ve even written about it here. But isn’t there a value to the middle ground? Isn’t there sometimes a reason to venture off the ends of the spectrum?

Yes. I’ve personally always been a fan of sometimes going with moderate workouts. Especially right now, when we don’t know exactly when our next big race will be, I’ve become an even bigger fan.

Well, two sources I like to read both recently tackled this topic, from slightly different perspectives that I think are both very practical. I’ll let their perspectives stand and throw in a third perspective I don’t think either has fully addressed and I’ve found myself using personally.

When I was younger, it was no big deal to do 3 truly hard days a week. My primary workout would be on Tuesday, a secondary but still hard workout would be on Thursday, then the long run which I would make downright grueling at times would be on Saturday. As I get older, I just can’t do that anymore.

But I can still get in 2 truly hard days a week, the Tuesday primary workout and the Saturday long run. On Thursday, I find that I sometimes can do something but it can’t be another truly hard day. So a moderate day fits in there well. Maybe a tempo run at a quick but not hard effort, maybe something like 3-5 miles at around marathon effort. Maybe a few short repeats like 4×400 at 5K effort or even 4×160 at 3K effort, not a grueling 12×400. This is a case where that moderate day fits well and I’ve also used something similar with the runners I coach with a good amount of success.

I’m sure you remember the book Born to Run and all the attention it received about a decade ago. On the top of the list of topics it got attention for was minimalist or barefoot running. Well, a new paper (Alex Hutchinson’s review here) dispels some of the myths around the Tarahumara. Probably the biggest thing to note:

Their ability, the authors suggest, “derives from hard work, physically active lifestyles, determination, and the spiritual and social values they place on endurance running.”

In other words, there is no magic potion or silver bullet. Flimsy sandals, genes, nothing. There’s some value in the cultural importance to running but, beyond that, it’s a lot of hard work, the same pain and suffering any successful distance runner goes through and plenty of determination.

The timing of your meals matters. Regardless of overall calorie consumption, those who skip breakfast perform worse while feeling like they are working harder in the evening.

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Don’t borrow from someone else’s puzzle https://www.hillrunner.com/dont-borrow-from-someone-elses-puzzle/ https://www.hillrunner.com/dont-borrow-from-someone-elses-puzzle/#respond Thu, 09 Jul 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68169 Continue reading "Don’t borrow from someone else’s puzzle"

Don’t steal those puzzle pieces!

These days, you can see a lot of workouts on social media, not to mention websites like Strava and Garmin Connect. Some of these workouts are impressive, maybe look interesting, or just look like something fun to try.

Have you ever thought of “borrowing” a workout you’ve seen online? While I won’t say never do so, I would like to urge you to use extreme caution if you do so.

What we can’t always see is the greater context these workouts fall in. Even if we’re following someone on Strava and can see every one of their workouts, we don’t know all of their context. We probably don’t remember the details of someone’s past month, let alone their past 1, 5, or 10 years. We also don’t fully know the aim of the workout or the outside of running circumstances that might have affected training decisions.

We also don’t know all the details of the runner’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not strong on tempo workouts but you borrow a workout from someone who is, you might end up doing too much. If you are strong on long runs and you borrow a long run idea from someone who isn’t, you might end up selling yourself short.

Building a good training plan is like putting together a puzzle. You need to put the right pieces in the right places. Taking pieces from someone else’s puzzle isn’t going to help you build your puzzle. Yes, sometimes you can see a workout and realize it will fit well into your training plan. Most of the time, though, trying to do this is like taking a piece from someone else’s puzzle and trying to force it into yours. It’s just not going to fit.

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Facing the reality of this fall racing season https://www.hillrunner.com/facing-the-reality-of-this-fall-racing-season/ https://www.hillrunner.com/facing-the-reality-of-this-fall-racing-season/#respond Thu, 25 Jun 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68752 Continue reading "Facing the reality of this fall racing season"

With the news yesterday that the New York City Marathon has been canceled, we’ve now seen Boston, Berlin and New York taken off the 2020 calendar. Chicago and London (currently rescheduled from spring) are still scheduled to go but don’t be surprised if they also cancel. During a pandemic, it would be irresponsible to bring tens of thousands of runners from around the world together, along with workers, volunteers and spectators.

Given what the experts are saying about a likely rebound of the pandemic in the fall, it’s likely that most large events and probably many, if not most, smaller events will not be happening this year.

I don’t say this to be a downer. I say it as a reminder of the reality this year is throwing at us. Keep this in mind as you’re training and adjust your training accordingly.

Now, on to some hopefully less depressing things I’ve been reading this month…

Does the summer sun take a lot out of you? I know it does to me. On a sunny summer day, especially if I’m facing the midday sun, it just beats me up. I do eventually adjust to it and do better but all summer is a battle for me since I usually run during my lunch breaks 5 days a week.

Well, it turns out the sun does have a big impact on how your handle the heat. It’s not just your imagination or something about you. The strength of the summer sun can be a lot to overcome.

The lesson I suggest taking from this? Don’t fight it, don’t be concerned about it. Accept it for what it is and roll with the punches. Be willing to slow down or you will pay the price.

High carb diet works better than low carb in another study. The study isn’t perfect (no study is because you can’t control all variables at once) but it’s quite robust and the results are solid: a 6-8% difference in energy efficiency between a traditional high carb training diet and a low carb training diet.

Mental fatigue doesn’t impair endurance performance? There is still a lot of research that suggests it does but this is how science works. See above: no study is perfect. Is this a one off result that will seem meaningless in the long term or will there be more that suggest we need to rethink our previous assumptions? Time will tell.

Exercising while wearing a mask. Some of us might be wearing masks while running, some of us might even be required to do so. This explains some of what you might experience while wearing a mask, as well as some advice on what to wear.

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Engine and chassis: a quick runner’s primer https://www.hillrunner.com/engine-and-chassis-a-quick-runners-primer/ https://www.hillrunner.com/engine-and-chassis-a-quick-runners-primer/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/2016/01/07/engine-and-chassis-a-quick-runners-primer/ Continue reading "Engine and chassis: a quick runner’s primer"

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.


Engine? Chassis? Are we talking about cars or runners?

A lot of coaches and experienced runners say things like the engine adapts faster than the chassis, make sure your engine doesn’t break down your chassis.

Obviously, this is an analogy to cars but what does it mean to the runner?

The Engine

The engine is the power source. It’s your heart and lungs. Your heart and lungs adapt to training and their capacity increases fairly rapidly.

The Chassis

The chassis is the structure that delivers the power to the road. It’s your legs in short. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and all the other structures that you use to apply force to the ground in order to move yourself. Your muscles adapt to training somewhat rapidly but not as rapidly as the heart and lungs. Tendons, ligaments and the other structures adapt much more slowly.

So what’s the point?

The point is many people get a few weeks into training and are feeling good. The breathing is relaxed. If they use a heart rate monitor, they see their heart rate going down. They figure they need to push more to keep the training up.

These people will often run into problems because their legs aren’t ready for the demands. Injuries creep up and suddenly the training cycle they just had a great start to is getting interrupted. It turns into a cycle of inconsistency.

So what to do instead? Pay more attention to your legs. Some feeling of heavy legs is normal and expected, especially in those early stages of training. Even a bit of soreness. However, if the soreness lasts for more than a few days or if it develops into a sharp pain, be smart about it. No matter how relaxed your breathing is or how low your heart rate is, it all doesn’t matter if you’re on the path to an injury. You’re only as strong as your weakest point and, early in your base training, that weakest point is usually in your legs, not your chest.

Treat your chassis well. If you don’t, your engine will break it down.

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Dealing with all that is going on https://www.hillrunner.com/dealing-with-all-that-is-going-on/ https://www.hillrunner.com/dealing-with-all-that-is-going-on/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68724 Continue reading "Dealing with all that is going on"

A lot of us are feeling stressed right now. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

I have to admit, I’m having a hard time writing blog posts right now. I’m distracted by what feels like a news cycle that is changing by the minute. I’m concerned about both the present and the future. This is a very difficult time.

Fortunately for me, running is my fallback, my stress reliever. My training is going pretty well because I need my time out on the road and I live in an area where running in solitude is the norm.

I know my circumstances are not what all of you are facing, though.

I know that, for some people, running is what writing is to me. Something you might like doing but can fall by the wayside when you’re distracted or stressed. For others, for various reasons, running might simply not be available to you right now.

Whatever the case, do what you can. Right now, with the world in turmoil, take care of yourself. I hope you can make running part of that taking care of yourself but, if you can’t, then do what you can. Even if that means putting your fitness and/or competitive goals to the side for a while, that’s ok. When things settle back down, and they will at some point, running will still be there for you.

Whatever you do, please don’t make running another stress in this already stressful time. It should be stress relief, not yet another stressor to deal with.

Finally, on the topic of my writing, I’m going to do what I’ve done in past summers, to account for both less motivation to write and wanting to spend more time with my family. Starting next week and going through Labor Day, I’m going to shift to an every other week schedule for blog posts. So no post next Thursday but I’ll be back at the regularly scheduled time the following Thursday.

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Ask me anything https://www.hillrunner.com/ask-me-anything-2020-06/ https://www.hillrunner.com/ask-me-anything-2020-06/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68719 Continue reading "Ask me anything"


It’s that time again! Your opportunity to ask me anything you would like. As I’ve mentioned before, this is always one of my favorite things to do.

Almost nothing is off limits. Feel free to ask me about training, racing, my thoughts on running during these wild times we’re facing, what’s going on at HillRunner.com. This is my invitation to you to ask whatever you would like.

As usual, you can reach out to me however you feel most comfortable. If you want to ask something publicly, you can do so in the comments, on Facebook, you can tweet at HillRunner.com or my personal account. If you want to ask in a more private setting, you can use the contact form or, if you are friends with me on Facebook or know my email, you can reach me through those methods.

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You can build muscle and strength https://www.hillrunner.com/you-can-build-muscle-and-strength/ https://www.hillrunner.com/you-can-build-muscle-and-strength/#respond Thu, 28 May 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68661 Continue reading "You can build muscle and strength"

You’ve probably heard the idea that endurance training blocks or greatly reduces the ability to muscle mass and strength through strength training. It’s been “common knowledge” for decades.

However, there is some evidence that’s not totally accurate.

More important for those of us who are focusing on maximizing our running performance: what does this do for the runner? It appears the greatest benefit comes from fatigue resistance. So, along with already documented injury prevention benefits, strength train to improve your performance late in races when you are exhausted but looking for that extra gear to chase down the competition or your goal time.

If you follow elite athletes on social media, you may have noticed that a lot of them are not just elite athletes, they are elite nappers. I’ve always assumed that they just train so hard that they need the extra rest an afternoon nap can offer. But maybe that’s not the case.

It’s an interesting perspective. I don’t know that it really changes things for us too much, other than not worrying too much if you don’t get regular naps.

What will the future of fast marathons look like? Alex Hutchinson takes a look.

We’re all probably familiar with Mary Cain’s story now. Good news: she picked up a new sponsor in a somewhat unique arrangement.

Why and how to train your Vagus nerve. Don’t worry, you don’t know what your Vagus nerve is. Really, the key is mostly about how you breathe.

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Spotlight workout: Hill repeats https://www.hillrunner.com/spotlight-workout-hill-repeats/ https://www.hillrunner.com/spotlight-workout-hill-repeats/#respond Thu, 21 May 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/?p=68581 Continue reading "Spotlight workout: Hill repeats"

You can do hill repeats anywhere you have a hill available

Hill repeats are always good workouts. Combining an interval workout with strength training. Reducing impact forces and lowering injury risk for other more technical reasons. There are all kinds of benefits to hitting the hill for your next interval workout.

During this time when many of us still can’t get into gyms and even tracks may be either off limits or not wise to go to for some, hill repeats can be even more powerful. Sure, you can get in a good strength workout in your living room and, with GPS watches, you can do almost any kind of interval workout you want anywhere. However, hill repeats can combine all of these things in one workout.

Benefits of hill workouts

So what are the benefits of hill workouts? I addressed some of them above but let’s lay the main benefits out now.

Strength training: By working against gravity, you’re adding resistance to the workout you would otherwise be doing on level ground. This added resistance means you’re not only getting in a good interval workout but stepping up your game by adding a strength component you wouldn’t get as much of while running on level ground.

Reducing impact forces: When running uphill, because you don’t have to “fall” as far to meet the ground, you don’t hit the ground as hard at foot plant. This makes the impact forces you experience while running at a high intensity lower. Just watch the downhills as you might increase the impact forces there. Walk back down if this is a major concern. Fortunately, impact forces are much lower when running more slowly so your overall impact forces, even if you do jog back down, will be lower overall and your peak impact forces will definitely be lower.

Other ways of lowering injury risk: Many runners, especially as we age, worry about pulling a hamstring by doing short, very intense workouts. One of the additional benefits of taking your workouts to the hills is that you don’t extend your knee as far just before foot plant, meaning you put less strain on your hamstring. There are other benefits but this is the biggest one for many runners and an example I hope I can explain well without a visual demonstration.

How do I do a hill workout?

Well, this depends on what you have available and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Since we need to work with the local geography, unless you’re taking the workout to a treadmill in which case you can do pretty much whatever you want to take your favorite interval workout to the incline, everyone’s options will be a little different.

So start with what you have available. Do you only have a short hill? Then you’ll be doing short, more intense repeats. Do you have a long hill available, maybe a half mile or mile long? Then you can do almost any type of workout you want. Just run part way up for shorter repeats or go the whole way for longer ones.

The grade of the hill you have available also matters. Generally, we want something that’s not so steep it greatly affects your form. However, if all you have available is a steeper hill, then you work with what you have. Regardless, we’re on hills so we’re not trying to hit a specific pace. We’re running for effort. Maybe, if you get familiar with the hill, you’ll know what kind of splits you should expect but don’t go in expecting a certain pace on your first workout.

As for picking a workout, you can really just pick your favorite interval workout that fits on what hills you have available.

Do you like half mile repeats? Then, if you have a hill that’s at least a half mile long, take that workout to the hill. Just remember that your recoveries are going back down so they need to be at least as long as the repeats (you could always add some extra recovery but, unless your hill is real long, your recovery will need to get you back down to the bottom).

Want to take some strides or short repeats to a hill? Great idea! As a bonus, all you need is a short hill.

As for actually doing the workout, run up by effort and walk or jog back down for recovery. So, if you want to do half mile repeats at 5K effort/pace, forget about pace and do your half mile hills at 5K effort. A recovery jog back down the hill will be suitable recovery and you’ll be ready for your next repeat.

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Summer running https://www.hillrunner.com/summer-running/ https://www.hillrunner.com/summer-running/#respond Thu, 14 May 2020 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.hillrunner.com/2017/05/18/summer-running/ Continue reading "Summer running"


Summer will soon be here! It may not seem like it right now here in Wisconsin but summer weather is just around the corner.

In this crazy year, there’s no telling right now when racing will again be happening but most of us are still training through as we hope our fall racing plans will not be postponed.

We all think of winter as the challenging and dangerous season for runners but there are challenges and safety considerations we need to keep in mind during the summer also. As well as the adjustments that we need to make not for our safety but to ensure we’re getting the most out of our summer time training.

Note: Some of what I say below may sound like medical advice. It is NOT meant as such. I am not a medical professional. I am just stating common suggestions for dealing with issues you might face while running in the summer. If you have any health related questions or concerns about your health, please seek the advice of a medical professional.

Pace: slow down

For most runners, ideal running weather is somewhere around 50-60 degrees (about 10-15 Celsius) with low humidity. When it gets cooler, you don’t slow down drastically but you do have to dress for it. When it gets warmer and/or more humid, there’s only so much you can do to dress for it. After that, the heat and humidity stress your body and you must slow down or pay the consequences.

Especially as the temperatures climb through the 70s and 80s (about the 20s Celsius), the stress on your body increases rapidly and you need to slow down or you will push your body too far.

What can we do about this? Slow down. Unfortunately, there’s not much else there is to do. I always remind myself that my paces will slow in the summer but they will come back strong in September and October as the temperatures get closer to ideal again.

If you’re racing in the summer, that’s fine but understand that it might be better to compete against other runners than against the clock. Even then, understand that some people are less affected by the heat than others. There are things you can do to mitigate the effects (hydrate, train in the heat to adapt to it, etc.) but there is only so much you can do. Don’t get upset about things out of your control. Believe in yourself and the process and know that things will get better as the weather cools.


Hydration should always be a focus for runners. Most people walk around in at least a mild state of dehydration all the time. Runners are more susceptible because we are out there sweating. Add in higher sweat rates due to the heat and we’re even more susceptible.

The best form of hydration most of the time is water. You don’t generally need sports drinks or other “hydration” drinks. Water will work just fine.

The one exception might be on long runs. Unless you’re doing an extreme long run, you don’t necessarily need calories as you should have enough fuel in your body before the start of a long run to fuel the run. However, you’ll be sweating out a lot of electrolytes, primarily sodium – salt, and it can be a little risky to replace just water without also replacing those electrolytes.

Note on hydration

Don’t go overboard! Current recommendations are to drink to thirst. As you may have noticed over the past several years, there have been some cases of hyponatremia going around the running community.

Some people think of hyponatremia as an over hydration issue and it largely is. Most people who have suffered it simply took in far more fluids than they needed. However, the actual health concern is an imbalance of nutrients.

There is some evidence that taking sports drink or electrolyte tablets will reduce the risk of hyponatremia by keeping nutrient balance better in check. However, the most proven effective way to reduce the risk is to drink to thirst.


Overheating is a real concern, especially on our hard days, whether races, long runs, or workouts.

The best ways to minimize the risk of overheating are to slow down and run in the early morning or late evening.

Pay attention to how you respond to the weather and what conditions hit you the hardest. Early morning is cooler than late evening but it’s also more humid. If you suffer in the humidity but do fine in dry heat, evening running may work better for you. If you can handle the humidity but not the heat, morning runs might help you out.

If you do start feeling overheated, find a shady spot, get some cool fluids if you can, and rest. If you stop sweating on a hot day, this is a sign of a serious problem and you should do all you can to cool down as quickly as possible.

Sun exposure

Finally, be aware of the amount of sun exposure you’re getting. Vitamin D is great but we don’t need much sun to cover our bases there. Skin cancer is not great. Again, running in early mornings and late evenings is the best way to reduce your sun exposure. If you do need to run in the middle of the day, get a good sweat resistant sunscreen and look for shade if possible.

Running in the summer is great! I wouldn’t give it up for anything, other than maybe a crisp October day. I hope you enjoy your runs this summer. As you do, also make sure you get the most out of your runs while staying safe. Keep cool and have a great summer!

Photo credit: _MG_7936.jpg by Gord Laqua, on Flickr

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