Climb every mountain

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So, I’ve decided to take-up with some of the local mountain goats and take my running off road, which means I need to increase my hill training. With much enthusiasm, and little sense, I sought out some serious climbs, and paid for it.

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This beast was the hill that set off my hamstring issues of late. I encountered it 4km into a casual Sunday run. I knew there was a big climb coming up but I didn’t realise it would be 120m worth of elevation over just 2km.

This climb broke me and I have very clear memories of shuffling up it in a posture akin to that of Grandma with a walker.

The physiology behind incline running goes like so: muscles are strongest and work optimally in the mid range of their action. By “running” up the hill bent forward (and thus with very flexed hips) I was asking my already lazy glut to work right in it’s outer range. Obviously it was having none of it and tapped out.

Enter the hamstring. It’s not ideally positioned to extend the hip but because it crosses the joint it gives it a good go when the glut isn’t doing its share of the work. Leaning heavily into the hill would have put the hammie on a substantial stretch. In effect I was asking a muscle 1) to perform a role its not designed to perform and 2) to do so at a length it doesn’t like working at.

I could feel my left hamstring start to tense up as I climbed and after the run my left leg felt a lot stiffer than the right. On subsequent runs I could feel that I had tweaked that hamstring a bit. I am sure it is no co-incidence that it was the left leg (that took such a beating when I fell off my bike) that starting playing up first.

Some deep soft tissue work (awkward to do myself but desperate times call for desperate measures), along with some stretching and glut strengthening have all seemed to help and my running feels more comfortable. I can feel that my stride length is more symmetrical again.

Trying to find a hill in St Francis to test the legs on is a bit like trying to find the Holy Grail. I managed a sum total of 90m of elevation during my 12km run! When I did find a bit of an incline I paid close attention to my form. By running more upright, focusing on activating my glut at push off and decreasing my step length the hill felt much more comfortable and I could feel I was putting the right muscles in a more advantageous position to work well.

Give it a try when you next tackle a hill and see how it feels. As they say, what goes up, must come down! More on that here.

Mama on the Run