Hill Running Tips

Lucky Seattlites! Wherever you run, there is likely to be a hill. However, we know quite a few athletes who tend to limit their running routes to avoid hills. Proper hill running (both up and down) has some great benefits including building strength and teaching pacing. And we hate to break it to you but the secret to hill running is no secret. To be a better hill runner, you need to run hills. Then when you come to a hill in a race and everyone around you groans in horror, you will be ready!

When running up a hill, you are working harder to overcome gravity. Your body is forced to recruit more muscles in your legs to carry you up the slope. That slope also alters your foot strike and biomechanics. It forces you to transition to a mid-foot strike, stretches your calves as your heel goes below your mid-foot and increases the forces in your calves and ankles. That additional force in your calves and ankles can add extra power and elasticity that can lead to an increased ability to use the force to power you uphill. If you have issues in these areas, you should be careful and very mindful of the increased load.

Form Tips for Uphill Running

Many runners tend to lean into the hill when they start running up a hill. Some forward lean is necessary but many people lean far too much and hunch over. Leaning too far forward limits the ability to bring your knee up, limits the ability to push off with your foot and keeps those glute muscles we’ve worked so hard to develop from properly working. You should think of standing tall as you glide up the hill and remind yourself to keep your gaze up.

Stay relaxed and use your arms. As you swing your arms, your legs will follow. Your cadence should be slightly quicker. Mentally, instead of cursing and grumbling about that dang hill, stay focused on quickly and efficiently getting past the top of the hill.

Once you are hitting the crest of the hill, continue the momentum as you coast and start to recover. Many athletes lose focus once to the top of the hill. Instead continue to drive past the crest and let gravity assist you as you start to go back down the hill.

Form tips for Downhill Running

What goes up must go down. Downhill running can be stressful to your body. It’s important to minimize the impact. The tendency is to lean back which acts to slow your speed. Leaning back also forces a heel strike which can put excessive stress on your legs, hips and back.

Lean forward slightly and keep your cadence quick. Running downhill, your stride will cover more ground but still focus on quick, light feet making sure your hips stay over your feet.


Running hills well during training and during races can be challenging. Hill running is a great way to develop a better sense of pacing. The biggest mistake we see in running hills is people charging up the hill. Instead of charging up a hill trying to hit a particular time, work to understand what a pace feels like when running on a flat course. Maintain that same effort as you go uphill. You will slow. You’ll make up some of that time (but not all) as you go downhill.

If a hill is particularly steep or for longer ultra distances, it may even be better to walk on the uphill. Reframe walking and realize that you are power hiking! If you find that you are starting to work too hard for pace, you risk blowing up and jeopardizing the rest of your race. Everyone is different with regard to what feels right with effort. If you walk, remember to maintain the same focus and drive and mentally stay focused on moving forward.

Some final notes

Instead of using the same muscles at the same pace, hill running forces you to use different muscles. Use this to stretch and give yourself a form check. As you get tired even when the course is flat, the clues to stand tall, use your arms, relax, pick your cadence up are all valuable form reminders. We also like to pretend that we’ve hooked onto a tow cable going up a ski mountain and visualize the boost.

Uphill Cues IMG_5303.jpgDo this! Coach Lesley has her gaze up, she is standing tall.

IMG_5304Do This! Here you can see Coach Lesley’s arms moving to assist propelling up the hill. She also has good right leg extension which engages the glutes.

IMG_5305Don’t do this! Here Coach Lesley demonstrates a common flaw when running uphill. She is leaning far forward from the hips and has her gaze down.

Downhill Cues

IMG_5308Do This! Coach Lesley has a slight forward lean that brings her hips over her knees and feet.IMG_5306Don’t do this! Coach Lesley demonstrates a common error with hill running. To slow her speed, she leans back. This puts much more stress on the knees, hips and back. And if the ground is very slippery, your leading foot can slip out from under you!


Here comes summer!

Photo courtesy of Ann R.


Right Coach. Last I checked it’s dark, wet and COLD out there.

If you are planning on an early spring event and are used to cool to cold temperatures, you need to start planning for building heat tolerance for your event now.

That’s right. You thought you just had to worry about swimming, biking, running and strength training? The well prepared athlete will also look at expected temperatures for their goal races. Preparing for an event in winter and spring doesn’t prepare an athlete for race day temps they may encounter in Spring.  For instance, for every 10 degrees above 50 degrees, marathon times may increase 1-3%. Runners who are less fit, are larger or are taking diuretics are typically more impacted by heat.

What are the key points to adaptation which allow for greater aerobic performance?

  • Increased blood volume
  • Earlier and increased sweating
  • improved fluid electrolyte balance
  • Increased mental tolerance and a decrease in perceived exertion.

Every person is different but generally it takes one to two weeks to adapt although up to 75% of the adaptation takes place after five days. Heat adaptation is lost quickly after a week. This makes the timing of heat training crucial as just when you’d want to be working out in heat is right when you are cutting back on workouts for taper.

Current research suggests starting heat training 3 – 4 weeks before your goal event. Not every workout needs to be in heat but aim for 3-4 workouts of an hour duration in a warm environment.

To achieve a warm environment indoors, wear more clothing than you would typically wear and do not use a fan. Remember that typical indoor temperatures are still much greater than our outdoor temperatures at this time of year. Remember to start drinking fluids earlier and slow down your pace as you would if you were outside running on a hot day.  Make sure to hydrate as needed throughout the rest of the day.

To achieve a warm environment outdoors, layer up including wearing a hat and gloves. The same advice for hydrating earlier and more often still holds true.

Saunas and steam rooms can also be used to adapt to heat by just sitting in a warm environment.

With any of these techniques, ease into heat training and make sure you are hydrating properly. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke! 

The last week before the goal race, you should be focused on recovering. The heat adaptation you have built up should last so focus on tapering properly and not stressing your system with specific heat training.

The good news? Heat training can have positive effects on race day performance even if it’s not hot.

Further reading:

Heat Acclimation for Runners

Heat Training and Acclimatization

Travis – You are an Ironman!


Congrats to Travis for his finish at the recent Ironman Arizona! Travis really worked hard on the mental side of training and was very thoughtful in his approach to the race choosing a well thought out race plan. That equaled great success in his first Ironman adventure. He shares his thoughts about his first Ironman.

Was it what you expected?

It was easier because of the weather, cloud cover and rain. The heat and sun would have been rough on me personally. However, the key is that it felt JUST LIKE TRAINING which is exactly what it should have felt like. I felt good with my pace, knew my limits and where I should push it, and what might happen (e.g. cramps) if I didn’t fuel, etc.

How did your training prepare you mentally and physically?

The IM was exactly like training with the exception that the run was tougher just because it came after the full distance of the other sports but that was expected. Knowing my pace and what I needed to do (pace, fuel) to finish was crucial. Knowing how my body responded to fueling was important as well because of my issues with solid food and sweets. Your tips on fueling probably saved me.

What was most helpful?

Having the pacing figured out ahead and burned into my mind. If I didn’t have a clear idea of what bike pace I needed to hit, I could see myself getting behind there. However I forced myself to keep my pace up on the 3rd lap which was hard mentally but important to ensuring I finished with time to spare. There was a time on my 3rd lap, in the pouring rain with sustained headwind, where I started thinking about sitting on my couch and showering and getting warm. But knowing the paces that I had to hit, I forced myself to pedal faster to keep the 2:30ish per lap. I’ll admit that was probably the toughest part mentally – heading back around mile 80 or so, when I was thinking about my living room, I almost mentally broke down but did manage to keep it together. At that point I wasn’t sure how the rest of the day would go, but after that it got much better. Coming out of the bike with 30ish minutes to spare, plus the 30ish minutes I carried over from the swim told me that I had an hour or so to spare heading into the run – and that gave me the confidence that I would finish and allowed me to take an extra minute or two in T2. Coming out of the bike I knew I would finish barring a major injury or cramp, and pretty much told myself I needed to fuel, not do something stupid, and keep myself moving forward at the right pacing.

What would you have done differently in training? On race day?

Considering everything, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. If I had another 10 months to train starting over, I might put more energy into improving my cycling pace b/c that was a weaker area, but overall I’m happy with finishing which was my simple goal.

Also, after the Seattle marathon I couldn’t walk for 2 days. I was stiff right after the race, and then for 48-ish hours afterwards.
After the IM, I was definitely stiff that evening and had a tough time walking around, but the next morning I was totally fine. Mildly sore and stiff but could easily walk around. And I have no doubt that is due to the training.

Recover well Travis and we cannot wait to see what you do for your next adventure!

Mindfulness in Training

There are no mental roadblocks ahead when you have a fun group run to pull you along.

Emotional resilience is a term used to define how people interact in the world around them. It’s one’s ability to adapt to stressful situations. More emotional resilient people demonstrate an ability to adapt to challenges. One’s emotional resiliency is in part based on a person’s nature but everyone can work on developing better emotional resiliency.


As an athlete myself, one of the hardest things I had to work on was emotional resilience within a training context. I rolled my eyes at my coach at the time and thought that he just doesn’t understand! With hindsight and coaching countless athletes over the years, it was one of the most important things to be learned as an athlete. For me it means not letting my emotions dictate my training and making sure not to workout based on emotion. For those of us who get very caught up, it can be very hard NOT to let emotions like race anxiety or fear of failure rule.

Let’s look at what emotionally resilient people do.

  • They are emotionally aware and can pinpoint what they are feeling and why.
  • Internal Locus of Control. These people believe they have control over themselves most of the time and have a choice in most situations.
  • Optimistic outlook. They work to see the bright side of things in most situations especially with events they cannot control.
  • Maintain support networks and take care of themselves.
  • Keep perspective as well as humor.

Every athlete at times must work on pulling back fear and anxiety over a race. Focus instead of how you are feeling in the moment when you are training and how you will make today’s run or strength workout or swim session a good workout. Sometimes that may mean asking for help in modifying your workout schedule, or acknowledging over tiredness and pulling back from a hard workout. If a workout is meant to be an easy endurance workout, that means not getting caught up in “making it count” by pushing too hard. You take care of yourself by fueling well, aiming for enough sleep, dialing back other activities when you can at times during peak training for a goal event.

A CL athlete has recently been worrying that she was “going to suck” at her next marathon if she did not get in every workout just right. She was trying to cram them in and feeling guilty to the point where she’d still try to do workouts even when she was exhausted because of work and other life commitments. At this point, rest and help from a coach to prioritize workouts was invaluable and she’ll be better able to understand how all these challenges help her develop her emotional resilience.

Train hard, recover hard and have fun!

The Big DNF (Did Not Finish)

All ready to race before the start of IM Canada. Photo courtesy of Diego T.

Diego T recounts his DNF at IMCa in July.

Back in July I DNFed Ironman Canada. There. I wrote it (even writing about it still makes my heart hurt). There is no way to sugar-coat it: it sucks.

Still now, my self-esteem is kind of bruised. I don’t even want to wear anything that says Ironman which seriously limits my training gear choices because most all my crap has some Ironman stuff on it. I am not quite sure what to do with the cool backpack with “Ironman Canada 2015” in big letters they give you when you check in. I feel so sorry for myself that I forget that I’ve completed four Ironmans as well as trained for and started two more – an accomplishment on its own.

When I think back at the two times I’ve withdrawn from an Ironman race (the second one being Ironman Wisconsin 2012) I always ask myself: What if I had pushed through? Couldn’t have I put myself together? Should have I taken more carbs? Did I give up to those negative thoughts too easily? The second-guessing just never ends.

What’s hard about the decision to withdraw from a race is that it is far from obvious. And at the same time it is irreversible (the moment you tell the volunteers you want to quit, they unceremoniously take your timing chip and send you your not-so-merry way). Making things worse, you feel physically awful; cold, sick, and in pain. Your thinking is impaired by exhaustion. Even the most basic math (to calculate things like how many miles you have left, or whether or not you are going to make the cut off time, or if you have been taking enough grams of carbs per hour) feels like you are doing orbital dynamics calculations in your head. Your Garmin doesn’t track your losses. And the thought of a nice warm bath and an inviting bed is just soooo tempting. Under those conditions, it is just too darn hard to distinguish whether you are going thru a bad moment that you can Zen away with some positive thinking voodoo, or that it is indeed the end of the line for you. Making things worse, you look around and think you see that everyone else is cruising happily through it. Even that little older lady you passed two hours ago is cranking along (“in your face!”, you imagine her saying while sticking out her middle finger).

But there is not much use in trying to figure out what went wrong or second-guessing my decision. I don’t think I will ever know whether it was the right decision or not, but I do know that it is pointless to dwell on it. I will never finish those two races – that’s irreversible – but I can certainly learn from them and sign up for others (thankfully, I am healthy enough and have a supportive family and coach to do so). I can reflect on my training, my nutrition, my hydration, my mental attitude before and during the race, and my reasons for doing this crazy thing in the first place.

The way I see it, if you do enough Ironmans (or any type of race that is challenging to you, for that matter) it is just a matter of time before you don’t finish one. An Ironman is a grueling thing, and one day your body or your mind will say “nope, not today”.

There will be inevitably a moment (or ten) during a race when you will seriously consider quitting. When you will tell yourself “I cannot do this”. The wisdom lies in distinguishing – in that precise moment and place – when the crappy feeling is temporary and will pass with a little pushing and self-talk and positive attitude stuff, or when continuing would actually be dangerous to your health and not worth the risk.

We triathletes are an over-achieving and obsessive-compulsive bunch, and as such we don’t do failure very well. The evening of the failed race I was already thinking about ways to “make it up”. Was there a race in the next couple of months I could still register for? (To prove myself that this was a fluke and that I can do this stuff). I don’t want to wait until next year to try again! No, hold on, next year I am going to do two Ironmans! You get quite irrational and impulsive. After a few deep breadths and counting to ten a couple of times I decided to wait until I was a little less emotional. I talked to my family and my coach and planned for my next adventures on a cooler head.  So I will be attempting Ironman Coeur d’Alene next year (I say attempting and not “doing” an Ironman because I’ve come to learn to respect the race), and I know that this setback will only motivate me to train harder and smarter and become a better athlete. Wish me luck.

Note from the coach: Diego, first and foremost I am very very proud of you.

Thank you for your brutally honest account of DNF-ing a goal race where you’ve invested your time, money and soul for months.

It is inevitable that at some point as an athlete it will not be your day and you will drop out of a race for the big DNF. The key is moving on and treating the DNF as an opportunity to learn and grow as an athlete.

You may never know if stopping was the right decision and nobody can ever make that call for you but, as a coach I look to see what the thought process was behind the DNF. I try to teach you to emotionally and physically be strong but also I try to teach you that being the best athlete you can be sometimes is about being the smartest athlete you can be. Sometimes that means overriding the emotion and doing what you physically need to do to stay safe and healthy for that race day.

First it helps to look at why you DNF’d IF you can pinpoint a reason. Sometimes you cannot. Maybe you had a hint of an injury which flared during the race, maybe you had too much stress going into the race which took too much of a toll or maybe it was something out of your control like weather or mechanical issues. Ultimately it does not matter. The next race, you’ll have rehabbed the injury, understood the role stress can play, practiced fueling or hydration issues.  You’ll be ready for that next race.

When should that next race be? Don’t jump immediately onto a race calendar trying to bring redemption to a tough situation. Take the recovery needed after a training cycle and the stress of race day.  Maybe it does make sense to aim for another race but maybe it makes more sense to move on from that DNF.

Dream on and aim for those big goals. Sometimes you’ll have that DNF but without taking a chance, you’ll never achieve those finishes. Whatever happens on one race day does not define who you are.  Letting go of the disappointment is part of process and looking forward to the next challenges makes us better athletes. We can’t wait to see where you’ll go next Diego.

Your Pace or Mine?

Coach Lesley on her way to 2nd Overall at the Women of Wonder 5k! Photo courtesy of Keith K.

Coach, what pace do you think i should do this race?

This is a frequent question and the answer depends on a lot of different factors. These factors depend on where you are in a training cycle, your racing experience and what works best for you. Pacing correctly for a race takes time to learn.

if you are a newbie to a distance or an event there are a lot of unknowns as you approach a new distance goal. Generally the safest plan is to go out at a pace you feel confident that you can hold knowing that the combination of tapering and the excitement of the event will carry you along. If you make it to 2/3 of the distance and feel great, speed up! Build a pace plan and stick to it especially in those critical first couple miles. Going out even 20 seconds faster per mile for your first mile can add minutes per mile to the end of your race.

Coach Lesley sets her pace by making a deal with herself that whatever she runs the first mile in, the miles after that have to be the same or faster. Thus she keeps herself from going out too fast. Depending on the day, this may be a bit slower or faster than her goals.

Another client knows that she does better by going out at an slightly more aggressive pace knowing that she may slow during the race. However if it all comes together, she’ll be able to hold the goal race pace. With experience she has learned that she can have a difficult time shifting to a harder pace even if well trained to it. The default race pace for her is a moderate pace instead of hard.  For her, it pays to take a chance.

Negative splits (ie running faster towards the end of your race) is generally the recommended pacing strategy. Sure enough this is how world records are set! From the above examples you can see that there are many ways to have a successful pacing strategy and it really comes down to learning what works for you both mentally and physically.

Winter Swim Routine Circling the Drain? Time to Rock the Boat

It has been 4 months since the last frigid open water swims here in Seattle and they feel like a very distance memory. Are you missing the “big pool” as much as we are? Sometimes its just hard to motivate yourself to go swim indoors, especially if you are already tired or have had a tough training week. But don’t skip that swim, your open water skills will really thank you come spring for keeping in shark shape. Use this time to hone your skills and utilize some great training tools.

Winter is a great time to hit the pool and work on technique in the water. Swimming is one of those sports where technique really matters…it is all about efficiency in the water. Give yourself a job in the pool. Go in with the mind set that you are there to accomplish a specific task. This will help break up the boredom of repetitive laps.

One of the most common mistakes made in swim technique is  fighting the water. Water is denser than air, the more you fight the more you increase drag churning your arms. This really just stirring up the water and wearing you out. Instead focus on quality long pulls, propelling yourself further forward with each smooth movement.

As runners and cyclists you learn to go faster by moving your legs faster. This is not the case with swimming. Let your upper body do a good share of the work here and focus on your body rotation. Your legs are best for helping your rotate your body in the water so that as you stroke with your arm it is timed to create a motion that you can pull against creating greater force. Think about trying hit a tennis ball with a racquet while in the deep end of the pool vs while standing on dry land. The force of your swing is greater as you push against the ground. The same idea is happening here- your body’s counter rotation to your stroke allows you to maximize your pull. It takes a great deal of core strength to achieve good body rotation – don’t skip those dry land days!

A fun tool to try out to help you with your body rotation is the TechToc from Finis. It is a waist belt that makes a noise as you rotate side to side. If you are not rotating well you will not hear the belt.





Always consider body balance as you are swimming. Is every part of you working together in a positive motion? On one of your swims don’t focus on trying to fix things just take an over all inventory of what motions you are making, how you are breathing, how you are feeling. Tune in and take stock. Think about what someone else would see if they were watching you from the deck. Take that back to your training journal and your coach to help formulate the game plan for improvement.

Water toys can be a fun addition to a workout but remember should be used as tools not as a crutch. Here are a few ideas you could work with:

  • Use your Pull Buoy to take your legs out of the equation and be able to focus on your stroke.


  • Use zoomers for more than just practicing your kick. Use them with your kickboard to practice kicking but rather than thinking about the kick think about your core and your glutes and making your kick come from those places.
  • Use your zoomers for a few laps of swimming and see if they help you connect your arms to your legs via your core.


  • Use paddles (sparingly and as shoulders tolerate) to help work on the catch and finding your lats.Unknown
  • The Tempo Trainer can help you work on your cadence in the water.




Other ways to make your workout fun could be meeting up with a friend or teammate. Sometimes just knowing someone else is working hard too helps you stick to your game plan. Take music along for the day but remember that if it distracts from your mental focus it may not be the best choice depending on what your goal in the pool is that day.

Also reward yourself for winter indoor. Consider buying a fun new swim cap or a new suit. There are new SIM swim shorts from Roka that are supposed to mimic wetsuit body position in the pool without overheating.




To swim like Michael Phelps don’t forget to work on your mental strategy and that can be done both in and out of the pool. In his book The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg gives us an inside to Phelps mental strategy. Phelps coach Bob Bowman taught him to make a record breaking swim simply a habit – how he reacted to his surroundings and circumstances was so practiced he didn’t need to think he simply reacted. Bowman taught him the “watch the videotape” – to visualize the perfect race every night and every morning . Then in practice Bowman would tell him to “Put in the videotape!”. This would insight Phelps to work as hard as he could and instead of being intimidated by it he simply executed the jobs as habit. Once this and a few other key habits were formed the habits spilled over into other aspects of training forming good training practices. Duhigg refers to these as “small wins”. He writes “a huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves”.

So sleep well tonight, “watch the videotape”, build your small wins and winter swimming will payoff in more ways than you may have initially thought!