By Lynn Barry
It's an exhilarating experience to be able to run up a trail with a minimum of gear. You can enjoy the panoramic vistas that most people have to take a backpacking trip or an all day hike to see. The training required to reach this level of fitness takes some effort, but the benefits last a lifetime.
Build a base. A foundation of cardiovascular endurance is needed before serious hill training can begin. Easy walking and jogging alternating with running is a good way to start. Work on that until you get to the point of being able to run a few miles comfortably.
Find your hill. Even 50 yards up a hill may be tough at first. Take it at a nice, steady pace, and then take a walk break. If your hill is short, you can walk back down and do the same 50 yards again. If it's a longer hill, just keep alternating running with walking all the way up.
Watch your form. Maintain an upright posture, with your head up and shoulders low and relaxed. Keep a straight line between your ears, shoulders, and hips, and your ankles at the point of foot fall. Now lean your entire body forward into the hill. Gravity can help you, even when you're going up.
Increase your distance. The key for some is to find an exertion level that you can maintain for increasing periods of time. When building endurance for hills, it's better to slow down a little so that you can go longer, even if your training partner can walk it faster than you're running it.
Win the mental game. Your brain will be telling you that you should be back home on the couch, or at the very least walking, not running up this huge hill. Tell it to be quiet, and keep going. Every little victory will make you mentally stronger and give you more ammunition for the next battle.
Come back down. Your risk of injury is greater when running downhill. Stay perpendicular to the line of gravity. Don't lean back, because that leads to braking with your quads and greater fatigue. Take short, quick steps, landing on the middle of your foot rather than your heel.
Strengthen your ankles. The weakest link for safe trail running is the ankle. Actually running on trails will strengthen them, but you may need some extra help. When you're at home or at the gym you can jog on a mini tramp or use a BOSU balance trainer.
Hit the trails. The reward for your newfound ability to run up and down hills without stopping is being able to enjoy everything that scenic mountain trails have to offer. Once you've tasted this kind of freedom, you'll want to head for the hills as often as you can.