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Running is a fairly popular topic these days.  You can find someone somewhere who has the same injury, the same goal, the expertise you need to relate to.  And that’s awesome.  With any of our content on Becoming Ultra there will be a strong focus on you, the aspiring and current ultra runner.   Norms for runners training in middle distance just might not apply to you.  So, if the advice and information we give you may seem too specific for ultra running for your taste. You might want to go check out a different site, OR shoot us a personal message as we are a teams of coaches and experts in all things health, fitness, performance, and especially, running.

Now to the good stuff.  There are so many ways to get better at so many things within your running goals.  Let’s focus on three today.  Why just three?  Because you can remember three and implement them today.  We like to take action around here.


3 things to be a better uphill runner today.

1. Head up

First of all, you can’t see where you are going if you are looking at the dirt 8 feet in front of you on every single climb.  Whether you are running in pristine wilderness on single track in the backcountry or up a dirt road outside of town, being able to keep your head up helps for more than the obvious reason of being able to take in the scenery and landscape.

Keep your head up and your life and your running may just be perfect.  Like this cheesy stock photo running couple!
Keep your head up and your life and your running may just be perfect. Like this cheesy stock photo running couple!


When your head is centered over your shoulders you will generally have good body position and posture.  When you drop your head forward the rest of your upper body drops with it.  You core isn’t as engaged and you have changed the angle between yourself and the ground on an uphill run.  You aren’t able to drive your knees up as readily and when you do in this position, it takes more effort.  Effort is energy and you need alot of that on long and uphill runs.

A couple ways to remember to keep your head up.

  • At first, use a timer.  Every 5 minutes, take a small inventory.
  • Is your head up?
  • Are your eyes forward?
  • Can you look left and right with no issues?
  • What did the trail look like the last quarter mile?

If you can take this inventory with a reminder(timer) for a few runs then you can create the habit.  So many running skills are built on awareness.  One more little trick is to think of driving a car or riding a bike.  If you look at the road right past the hood or where the tire hits the ground, you are in trouble.  The same goes with running.  Pick a spot 30 meters ahead and continually scan at that distance.  You can’t have your head down to do this.  Also, your brain is pretty amazing. Once scanned you won’t have to look down as often as you think until it gets real technical.  It’s a great skill that allows you to run with better form and awareness of your amazing surroundings.  In summary, keep that head up for a more enjoyable and more efficient run uphill.

2. Short and quick

Nothing will make your uphill battle more miserable than long, laborious strides up a big climb.  Yes, as a rule, if your fitness isn’t there or you need to save your legs for some big time descending, fast hiking up the hill is always recommended.  But, if you are running uphill, you need to shorten and quicken that stride.

The importance of a fast cadence is important at every level and distance for performance and injury prevention.  So, next time you run uphill, with your head up and with good posture, exaggerate how short and quick your strides are.  Count them for a minute.  How many steps did you get?  Shoot for 180-200 even if your stride length is only 12 inches.  As you get stronger and fitter, these strides will get longer but the cadence will stay the same and you’ll be faster uphill.  One skill that really helps with uphill running is our next and last of the three tips, stay present.

You should test to see what your cadence.  We counted the first step for ya.
You should test to see what your cadence. We counted the first step for ya.

Before you read the last tip, try this little test.

Find a hill that you can get to on a regular basis.  It needs to be something that tests your fitness in less than a half mile. If you are in a flat area use a big stair case steep treadmill.  Measure a set distance.  Run the distance as fast as you can and measure the time it takes and how many steps you did it with normal gait/form.  Record the time.  If you were under 180 steps/minute the time didn’t count. If you were over 180 s/m record the official time.  Retest every two weeks for 3 months.  Continually record your cadence and time and lets see what correlation there is at the end for optimal steps per minute for your style of running!

3. Stay present

You are running uphill. You don’t know when, if ever, the damn thing is going to top out.

False summit. Check.

Burning quads. Check.

Exploding heart. Check.

Thinking about the end of the hill.  Please don’t check this one off.  

There are few things you can do as a runner, an ultra runner, that will destroy you mentally.  Thinking about the end of your run or the end of wherever you are is one of them.

It’s human nature to think of comforting things when we are uncomfortable.

Running uphill is uncomfortable.  We are going to give you a few things to consider to stay present on your next uphill run.

First, think about your form.

  • Are you relaxing?
  • How is your cadence?
  • Are you driving your knees up to clear the incline?
  • Are you really that spent cardiovascularly?

Just ask these objective questions so you are running well.  Running well is not as miserable as running poorly(duh).

Second, take in your immediate surroundings. We run trails and train for ultra’s to get away from tech and work and everything really.

  • Is there a bird chirping you can focus on near by?
  • Is the water running in the stream?
  • Does the air feel particularly crisp today?

Just take it in, where you are.

Running is meditative by nature.  Be where you are out there!
Running is meditative by nature. Be where you are out there!



Lastly, embrace the burn.  The hurting and burning is a load put upon your body.  This load is going to physiologically adapt your body to be better at the exact thing you are doing.  Thinking about your bodies ability to adapt during a tough uphill makes it that much easier.


We hope you get a chance to try out one of these three ways to improve your uphill running.  As a matter of fact, try at least one of them on your next uphill run and let us know how you did.  Send a message to contact@becomingultra.com .  We will be doing an uphill Q&A soon on Google Hangouts so stayed tuned.  You can subsribe to get updates on the top bar of this site or below.


Thanks so much for reading and for training to become better or Become Ultra!


Scott is the founder of Becoming Ultra and spends most of his time with his family and ideas to get people moving!