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!


The Mind Game

We often have the idea that with ideal training and the perfect race that it’ll all come together and be easy during a race.  It can all come together but race pace is always a challenge. Dealing with and managing your brain is a much bigger part of race management than any newbie ever expects. Practicing positive mental cues and mantras during training is a great way to prime yourself to deal with the inevitable mental difficulties that arise during a race.

Here is one athlete’s take on a recent half marathon race. Thanks Lora B!

Wow, 8 am. An hour in, really? Too fast. Hit the half way mark. Six miles. Ugh. Only half way?? I’m tired. Run your race. A few pass me. She’s older than I am. Doesn’t matter. Who cares. Run your race…

I want a shirt that says, “Yes I’m 55, and I’m in front of you.” No I don’t, it’s not about that. Run your race. Everyone is tired, it’s all about being here not who I beat.

Why am I so tired? Because you have run 9 miles already!?

Okay, inventory – what hurts? Feet. Duh, run lighter, tempo, pick up your knees, better.

What else hurts? Knee? I’ll stop and stretch when I get to that sign. Much better, get back up to pace.

What else? My calf – tight but not too bad, I can stretch at next water station.

Good sign- “What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you.” I can’t believe I am doing this again. Change – see myself as an athlete again, find joy in hard work. Yes this is hard but I am doing this!

Down hill stretch – I want to break 2 hours, I see that pace bunny (2:00 hour) ahead, I can get up there. No you don’t, that’s insane. Just finish. Stop looking at the time. I swear I will take off this damn watch. I am looking at my distance, not time, no I’m not. Yes I am.

OMG. This hill is too long…. Have to walk, that’s OKAY, you’re doing it. Keep moving. Shade now, thank Gawd… still incline but let’s hit it, use your butt muscles, push your tempo, and power up those arms!

Stop checking time – watch the mile marker signs instead –count down the clicks. 8k (clicks) to go. Inventory – what hurts? Nothing else, nothing new, very tired, water coming up. Downhill now, find the recovery, hold tempo, this is better… in the shade now.

5 clicks to go, okay, that’s 3 miles, that’s once around Green Lake. Another frigging hill? Seriously. Okay, watch the crowd, hi-five the kids, good signs people. Thank you people for smiling and cowbells, not just standing there watching us idiots run by.

Okay, just 2 clicks, Gawd it’s hot… 2K, that’s just over a mile. Okay, now I’m heading back from an easy run to Sunset park, I do this all the time. Shade please, shade please, don’t stop. 2 clicks. Seriously just 2 clicks left! Why are these people stopping to walk?! Not my problem. Just run my race. I can do this, just run your race, don’t care about time. We are going to run across that damn finish line, no matter how slowly!

Okay, shade on the left, all the way to the finish line – see it, a football field away, no problem. Pick up your feet, tempo, you did it… Clock says 2:14 but is that from first start or our wave? Geez, did I run 2:10? Holy smokes, I think so.  F##k. Done. Give me water. Thank you Lord…

A Cow Encounter


Tony ran a 10k trail run recently and writes:

I was ahead of the pack when I came across a cow that lowered its head and ran at me half way.  I stopped and thought, hmm this isn’t a dog like last time and that cow moved fast.  I wondered was it a bull?… pondering, stepping back slowly.   I waited for the pack to catch up because there is strength in numbers  I hear.  After the pack caught up I was behind in 4th.  I stopped to take a few pics of the scenery and thought whatever, just run.

Anything can happen during a race! On a trail you may encounter wildlife although usually we worry more about encountering a bear or a mountain lion. Safety first!

Congrats to Tony O for a 3rd Overall Male and 1st in Age Group Placement at a 10k Trail run even with a cow encounter!

The Boston Marathon

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Photos courtesy of Jeff D.

Congrats to Jeff D for a smart, tough run at the Boston Marathon which featured warm temperatures and a grueling headwind which was very tough on all the competitors. Jeff had some injury limitations this training cycle but he and Coach Lesley were able to manage those limitations to the best of his ability and get him to the start line ready to go. With Coach Lesley’s help he had a pacing and nutrition plan and committed to running a smart race. And we are so thrilled to report, he nailed it!

Coach Lesley reports: Jeff did an amazing job both in training and on race day. He took to heart the conversations we had and plans we made. He asked great questions and tried everything out in practice and reported back in about what was working and what was not. When I met Jeff he was already a good athlete and a hard worker but over the past months I have seen him become not only a good athlete but a smart athlete and this will take him far. Well done Jeff! I can’t wait to see what is next.

JefFullSizeRenderf writes: I honestly think it could be the best race I’ve ever run.  It was grueling.  I never suffered in this race and think it was probably the smartest race I’ve ever run.  If had a disappointment it’s my fade on miles 23-26 which I really wanted closer to 8 but I just couldn’t pull it off in the wind.  I think the heat especially early in the race sapped me a bit too. All in all I left it all on the course. Very satisfied.  My legs are crushed.

How did your training go? 
I generally follow a 14-week training regimen which Coach Lesley helped me build in late January.  We no sooner got the plan together and refined when I ended up with a tendon injury in my lower right leg after being a little too aggressive with track intervals in early January before I’d reached out to Coach Lesley.   At the time I thought it was just a small “tweak” but over time it became progressively more painful and I saw a specialist that Lesley recommended at Virginia Mason in Seattle.  It turned out to be a soft-tissue strain that I could train on — but it really changed how aggressive we could be over the next 10 weeks leading to Boston so we had to fairly significantly revise the original plan.  With Lesley’s advice, we focused on making sure I could get my long runs in weekly or every other week with a lot of focus on aerobic training on the elliptical as well as fairly intense core workouts for strength, balance, mobility/flexibility.    There was very little opportunity for any speed or tempo work although we did our best to get it in late in the cycle as my injury started to calm down.   I was also aggressive with PT and scheduled appointments for dry needling, sonic massage, and workouts on an Alter-G treadmill in Bellevue (highly recommended!).   Although my training for the marathon wasn’t the original plan, our revisions to the plan went very well as I was able to work through an alternate approach with less emphasis on weekly volume and speed — and still get to the starting line in Hopkinton and feel as though I had a shot to run a competitive race.
What was challenging for you this day and what did you do to overcome the challenges keeping in mind your race day plan?
The biggest challenge in this year’s race was absolutely the weather.  Downtown Boston was forecast for 64 with a headwind of 10-12 mph out of the east and the western towns of Hopkinton, Natick,  Wellesley, and Newton forecast for the upper 60’s to low 70’s.    Given the race doesn’t start until 10:00 AM and my wave (wave-2 at 10:25 am) it was already 67 degrees at the start of the race and got progressively warmer from there.   I really started to feel the heat around mile 13 leading to and through the Newton Hills in miles 16-20 and started to slow down and adjust my pace – trying to keep even effort while staying hydrated (I packed about 20 oz of water and nutrition in a utility belt — and took in about 2oz of water or gatorade every mile at the aid stations).   The wind was starting to also really pick up but as we got progressively closer to Boston — but thankfully as we crested heartbreak hill at mile 21 the air cooled into the low 60’s although the wind out of the east became stronger and was a dead headwind.   So really for this whole race it was either the heat, wind or both for 26 miles.
In terms of overcoming the challenge of the weather I was fortunate that my “B” goal of 3:44 aligned with what I would need to run under more challenging circumstances.   I knew by mile 10 that 3:33:00 wasn’t going to happen and shifted my focus on trying to stay below 3:40:00.  I knew if I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 in 2:58 that I could run 42:00 or 8:00 pace and get to the finish line.    I managed to get to mile 21 in exactly 2:58 but wasn’t able to hold an 8:00 pace running mile 22 in 8:17 but then fading in the wind — and in reality just trying to enjoy the last few miles as there really is nothing else like the final right hand turn onto Hereford Street followed by the final left hand turn and 700 yards down Boylston and the finish line.
I didn’t mention it in my blog, but we nailed the nutrition and hydration plan.   I actually took gels at mile 3, 11, 17 and 21 with the 8oz of the Vitargo with water at 7 and 15 miles.   I took in 1 – 2 oz of either gatorade or water every mile to augment too.  People were getting crushing as the race went on and it got warmer…   So I was happy to have a plan that anticipated all this!
What’s next?
REST.   My body needs a cooling-off period away from marathoning.  I’ve been in continuous training mode since Labor Day 2015 as I ran the mid-December Honolulu Marathon before launching right into Boston marathon training after only a couple of weeks of rest in December.    Once my tendon injury fully heals, I am going to focus on getting fast again and rebuilding my speed base focusing on some 5K’s, 8K’s and half-marathons.
I will run the Boston Marathon as many times as I can BQ. It’s simply that fun — and challenging — of a race.
To read more of Jeff’s fabulous race: blog link

Chose a Running Backpack

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Ready for adventure!

There are a few different reasons to use a running backpack including long run support, run commuting and running while doing errands. There are also many types of packs to chose from. These include:

  • Handheld water bottles with an added zip pocket
  • Waist packs which allow for water and/or room to carry items
  • Running backpacks with or without Hydration accessories. These are generally the largest packs and allow for a lot of carrying room.  They can be used for more than just running (think hiking or day trips) but for running, bulkier packs can shift a lot so these should still be compact.
  • Race vests are the minimal version of a hydration pack. they tend to be lighter, allow for a water bladder and you can carry smaller items such as food but not much else.

How do you chose?

Handheld water bottles work very well for some. The amount that you can carry in the pocket is very limited however. And at the end of a long race, fatigue in your arms (even as you switch sides) can be a challenge. Those handheld water bottles don’t seem like they are heavy but water weighs a lot!

If you decide a running pack would better suit your needs, you need to figure out what those needs are. If you would like a pack for long runs, bigger isn’t always better. The smallest pack that you can get away with and that is comfortable will mean that you use it that more often. It may also require a couple of different packs.

Running packs with or without hydration accessories are standard right now and there are many brands. (Check out the list of packs that clients have had success with at the bottom of the page.) Look for sturdy, padded shoulder straps, chest and/or waist straps. Chest and/or waist straps should be well positioned for your body. These straps help keep the load secure while running.We do recommend front strap storage as taking a pack on and off to access a back zipped storage area is time consuming and can get annoying.

Will you carry water? Some people prefer using packs that allow for carrying water bottles and some prefer bladders. When using water bottles it is easy to see how much water you have used and refilling is typically easier.  Water bladders allow for easier drinking (from bite tubes) and minimize sloshing sounds if filled properly. They typically can carry more fluids as well (20 ounce bottles or .6 liter versus 1-3 liter capacity for bladders).

Now we get into the nitty gritty of fit and comfort. A lighter weight back pack is better. The material of the backpack is also important. Many have a mesh layer to provide air against the skin. Wearing a backpack can be warmer than you expect. Unfortunately the easiest way to tell what will work for you is to use the item. With use, you may find that the fit is not quite right for your body or your needs.

Waist packs can work very well. There are many types and some with 1 – 4 bottles of various sizes.  We know some athletes who swear by their waist pack and others who swear at them.

Many manufacturers have gender specific packs as well. That pack built for a petite and narrow shouldered woman is not going to work as well for a 6’+ guy with shoulders!  The packs use a variety of other straps to mold the pack to your body. You should be able to get a comfortable and snug, natural fit.

Check out these packs:






One athlete’s stash!

It’s not a 4-letter word.

Nutrition planning for training and events should be a simple process but for many athletes, it is not. The tired old statement “Use what works” often doesn’t apply because we see many athletes do not put the same care into figuring out what works for nutrition that they put into figuring out what shoes or other gear works. At the other extreme, it is easy to get too wrapped up into details. Keep it simple and practice your nutrition strategies so on race day, you know what does work for you.

What are carbs and why are they important? What can protein do? Do you do better with added fat? What components are more important for a training ride or run versus general nutrition? You can read an article or listen to a training mate or even mindlessly follow your coach’s advice but you need to test what will work for you and sort it out.

It’s easy to understand the training results of biking 30 miles and run 2 for a solid brick workout. it is a much more subtle learning experience to do the workout but tweaking caloric consumption and getting an idea of what kept your energy level up and and your brain working. Fueling properly can also aid your recovery from workouts. You spend however many hours per week physically training, planning for your nutrition needs doesn’t require as much time and can make a huge impact on your performance.

At lower intensities, you may be able to tolerate certain foods but have issues when going harder. If something doesn’t work during a training run at a (true) easy effort, it will not work at race effort. Ultimately you need to keep it simple. At long distance events, your brain will not be working well. What you practiced in training and know works will save you on race day. For some that is as simple as 3 gels per hour with 2- 20 ounce bottles of water for a 12 hour event. For others who know they cannot tolerate gels or cannot tolerate that many calories or the monotony, they will need to experiment with other types of gels, real food, powdered drinks etc but keeping it simple enough to replicate on race day when you may not be able to control all variables.

Often in long events, variety is important. After so many hours, your may not be able to choke down your preferred food one more time. It may taste too sweet, too dry or be too bland.  Variety can help you look forward to that next food stop and keep you fueling which is the goal.

Generally we like to see athletes take a minimum of two “nutrition training sessions” per month where you go out for that long ride, run or brick session and eat and drink as you plan to during a race.  Understanding what works during a nutrition training session is a vital step in bringing your performance to the next level. As we begin to ramp up towards the race season, NOW is the time to work on this.

Some sample athletes and what they do.

Endurance Runner A: she has no trouble eating or drinking anything during any training session. However she tends to need more calories than would be expected for her weight and has issues with electrolytes which affect both power and lung function. Now for any endurance running event she’ll often carry her own small water bottle that she carries during training runs. She takes a gel every 4-5 miles (approximately 30-40 minutes depending on race pace) and an electrolyte tablet every 6 miles. If she feels like she needs more calories because of the way her body feels, she will switch gel consumption to every 3-4 miles. She rotates between favored gels but stays away from fruit flavored ones which she finds too sweet.

Endurance Runner B: He is a larger runner and struggles to get in enough calories during training runs.  He uses gels every hour and supplements with quartered pbj sandwiches. In addition he uses a carb powder within his water bottle and partakes of water at aid stations. He has trained himself to be able to take in more calories and generally does well.  If it is warm, he knows he’ll need to add in electrolytes and has those at the ready.

Triathlete A: She is of average build and has practiced enough so that she can get in enough fuel. To get the 40-60 grams of carbohydrates she knows works for her, she likes to eat a variety of foods. Pop tarts, PBJ, trail mix, fruit bars and shot bloks are her preferred foods. Also, she has one bottle of water and one bottle mixed with electrolytes at all times. This triathlete can also use anything for the run but prefers gels, water and an electrolyte capsule. This helps keep it different from what she eats while on the bike.

Triathlete B: He loves pizza and pizza is his magic food! He is fit and of an average build but is a busy middle-aged dad. He trains as much as he can but sometimes life gets in the way. He tries to get in the nutrition planning that he knows he needs but often cannot make it work. His secret weapon is pizza. He always eats this the night before a long brick workout and always the night before a triathlon. He makes sure to order extra pizza to have for breakfast and then again in T-1. He feels the combination of carbs, fats, protein and sodium sets his day up right. Once on the bike he may still have some of his pizza in his back pocket for the first part of the ride and then switches to water, electrolytes, bars and gels.

What will your magic food be? You will never know until you experiment!


Did you make any resolutions?

 It’s been a month and if you are like most adults, those resolutions have been broken, forgotten or you’ve thought up a good reason why it was a silly idea in the first place.

Truthfully, you want to make some changes. Resolutions can work but the changes you make need to be small and something that you can live with the rest of your life.

Think about this. Small changes. Maybe it was those first steps that set you on the path to your first 5k. Those small changes can set you on a path towards bigger goals and aspirations.

We like to see resolutions and goals as all part of a balance within your life. That was very evident at the CL Holiday Party’s food spread. It was full of tasty items. Some would consider some items more “healthy” than others but all have a place in your diet.  Small changes can make a big difference.