Tuesday, July 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Losing Weight is Just a Hill Away

You cross the finish line after pushing hard through a 5K race, look at the clock, and your race time reads in bright red Las Vegas colors for you to see, and for onlookers viewing. You shake your head in disgust then glance at your faithful running watch, desperately hoping something has been lost in translation somewhere between your little watch and that gleaming embarrassment up on the wall, but not a chance. The fact is, the number you see at the end of the race does not lie, and if you are looking to get better, competitive, and healthier there is work to be done.

Running and walking is an excellent means of taking off excess weight, but even health-conscious runners occasionally avoid one of the better ways of dropping that unwanted weight. Whether it is a mountain or a molehill, taking the incline instead of going around it will only help you on your quest. If you are in Florida, finding a hill may take some time, but in the Northwest and Tacoma specifically, we can find a nice incline just about anywhere.

For runners, losing weight really comes down to mileage, intensity and a willingness to be disciplined at the dinner table, keeping a close eye on calorie intake. When taking on hills, intensity, along with form, is imperative to success. Everyone has their own unique running form, but hills can be the equalizer in a race and possibly your weight loss progression. If you are going to run up and down those hills, it is important to exercise ample knee lift and maximum range of movement in the ankle. Effort should be put into using a light ankle-flicking push-off. The pushing upwards with your toes should not be too explosive, or you will waste too much energy. Land on the part of your foot, and then gracefully let the heel come down below the level of the toes as weight is taken by the impact. Another important factor of hill form is moving your arms and not leaning too far forward. If you are really looking to get your form right, have someone videotape you going up the hill or make your way to the local gym and find a treadmill that has a mirror in front of it so you can see for yourself where improvements may need to be made.  

Local runner and professional athlete Joseph Gray knows a thing or two about hills. Gray, who specializes in a variety of endurance events including mountain, trail, track, road, and cross-country running, has been a member of eight U.S.A. National teams and won four U.S.A. National Championships during his pro career.

“In terms of hills, I think they are important, depending on what type of running you are preparing for,” Gray said. “For me, they didn’t necessarily make me faster but stronger. I was preparing for mountains when I first started to use hills regularly, so it was obvious that I needed some hill work. I think hills are important for athletes trying to build their aerobic capacity without the pounding of flat running.”

Gray also holds the record for first athlete ever to win the North American, Central American, and Caribbean Mountain Running Championships with three consecutive victories from 2009-11. In addition, Gray has won the prestigious award of U.S.A. Mountain Runner of the Year three years in a row (2008-10).

“I definitely think it can help with weight loss, as it requires more energy to run uphill, so more calories are needed in terms of energy expenditure,” said Gray.

Overall, hill training is just good for you and offers the following benefits:

  • Helps develop power and muscle elasticity

  • Improves stride frequency and length

  • Develops coordination, encouraging the proper use of arm action during the driving phase and feet in the support phase

  • Downhill running develops control and stabilization, as well as improved speed

  • Promotes strength and endurance

  • Short hills develop maximum speed and strength

  • Mixed hills improve lactate tolerance

  • Helps with weight loss

Weight loss does not have to be such an uphill battle! If you are interested in learning to run hills properly while losing some weight in the process, the South Puget Sound 5K Freaks train on hills religiously through Tacoma. For more information go to or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).