Michaeleen Doucleff, PHD December 28, 2011 TWEET COMMENTS 4

Inclination for Speed - Page 2

Short and Quick

Aim for a cadence of three steps per second, no matter the grade, by using short, quick steps. The steeper the incline, the smaller the steps. "A shorter stride will keep you leaning forward," explains Professor Reed Farber, biomechanics expert and director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary. "If you can see your toes in front of you, you're over-striding and losing efficiency." On technical terrain a fast tempo also provides more agility to dodge obstacles.

Ball First, Heel Second

Good mountain runners land on the ball of the foot, then lightly touch down on the heel. "This mid-foot strike spring loads your Achilles tendon to propel you up the hill and keeps your weight in front," explains Dr. Ferber. Heel striking, on the other hand, applies a strong braking force that throws your weight back.

But landing exclusively on your toes can cause ankle pain and calf strains. "Many runners tend to stay on their toes for steep climbing," says Burrell, who recommends this technique only when sprinting up short, extreme grades. "On long uphill grinds, this will burn out your calves, so stretch them out by using the whole foot."

Armed Forces

Swinging your arms encourages quick leg turnover and provides a boost on nasty grades. "The arms don't contribute much to forward motion on the flats," says Professor Bryan C. Heiderscheit, director of the Neuromuscular Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin. "But on steep hills, they provide vertical [uphill] propulsion as well as forward force."

Race Mode

In uphill races, Burrell says, "Abandon expectations for a certain per-mile pace and focus on breathing, form and effort." Think of an Italian sports car in the Swiss Alps, and shift down to a low gear for a pace you can sustain.

"If you go too hard, you'll fade," says three-time World Masters Mountain Running Champion, Simon Gutierrez. "Use a heart-rate monitor to learn where your lactic acid threshold [exercise intensity at which lactate accumulates in the muscles, causing fatigue] is and then stay just under that point." Or gauge your effort by determining the maximum number of breaths-per-stride you can maintain for more than 30 minutes, and make this your race pace.

For extreme grades where form and efficiency decline, switch to a power hike or a "sideways" stride (see below).

At a hill's crest, accelerate up and over to carry the momentum on the downhill. And at the descent's end, use your downhill speed to accelerate the first part of the next hill. Ultramarathon legends Kami Semick and Scott Jurek use this "transitioning" strategy to shave minutes off their race times.


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