Inclination for Speed
Run uphill like the pros
To capture last year's U.S. Mountain Running Championship title at Mount Washington, Eric Blake ran the equivalent ...
Illustration by Kevin Howdeshell
To capture the 2008 U.S. Mountain Running Championship title at Mount Washington, Eric Blake ran the equivalent of almost four Empire State buildings (4650 feet) in 60 minutes—that's 7:59 minutes per mile. To place fifth at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship, Galen Burrell climbed 6000 feet in the Swiss Alps at an 8:47 minute-per-mile pace for the marathon's last half.
How do top trail runners ascend steep, gnarly grades for hours without exhausting and injuring themselves? Though it helps to train for years and have heaps of talent, proper technique and a smart strategy dramatically increase your speed on steep inclines.
Posture Is Paramount
"Let gravity help you by leaning into the hill, and use short steps with a quick tempo," says mountain-running pioneer Chuck Smead, 56, of Mosca, Colorado. Smead's technique makes it no wonder he's won every major U.S. mountain race and still accumulates division victories.
Maintaining speed on long climbs requires an efficient stride, which means keeping your hips and midsection ahead of your feet, so you "fall" up the hill. Use the stance of a ski jumper: bend forward from the ankles with your shoulders, back, and bum in a straight line. Avoid bending at the waist, which strains your back and throws your weight backward. Rather, imagine a bungee cord attached to your chest, pulling you forward with your body properly aligned.