flat running vs. hill running

Flat running vs. hill running is the theme of the week, and let me tell you, there are some serious differences.

flat running vs hill running

I live and run in Florida, the Sunshine State, which is also known as the “Flat State.” In order to get any kind of hill training, I have to drive to a bridge or a parking garage. Additionally, our city is less than 10 feet above sea level, so altitude is a complete non-issue for me.

I just spent the last five days in a cabin on the side of a mountain. In my (inexperienced) head, I figured running would be harder, but I had no idea how much of a challenge waited for me. The truth is, I managed very little actual running, due to the incline of the hills. I just wasn’t prepared.

You Use Entirely Different Muscles On Hills

I hear so many runners talking about how running on flat roads is difficult because you always engage the same muscles with no variation. Well, I’m here to say that when you are running up and down hills, you work muscles you didn’t know existed. I struggled heading up, and cramped in my left (read: uninjured) leg coming back down. To be honest, I would think running flat would be a welcome relief to everyone, but clearly, it’s the preference to which I’m accustomed.

flat running vs hill running

The Air Is Different Up There

The first major difference in the flat running vs hill running challenge is air. Hillier automatically means higher, and higher means thinner air. In Florida, we deal with humidity, which definitely makes it hard to breathe. I was amazed at how much I exerted myself doing less when at a higher elevation. There was more walking than running, and it was shocking how much hungrier and tired I was than when I do harder and more intense activity at home.

flat running vs hill running

Safety Precautions Are Different

On a flat road, visibility is a bit less of an issue than on a hilly one. Everything is wide open and exposed, so it’s easier to be spotted by drivers and also to have your movements a bit more exposed.

Hills can lead to low visibility with their peaks and valleys and twists and turns. Even a driver paying super close attention might miss someone on the side of the road, which could lead to serious tragedy. This isn’t something I really had to think about before, and I was glad that I don’t run with music very much anymore. No distractions helped me stay more cognizant of approaching vehicles and sprinting deer.

flat running vs hill running

(Please note, safety is super important no matter where you are engaging in activity. All runners, walkers, and cyclists should be on high alert).

Strength Training Might Be Even More Necessary For Hills

I runfessed that since I picked up Couch To 5K again, I’ve been a bit negligent in my strength training. What I learned in my flat running vs hill running lesson is that better core and upper body strength would have been hugely helpful. Is is FAR easier to maintain good posture and form when you’re not leaning into or back from a steep hill. The grades meant I used muscles I never knew existed in order to keep moving. Truth be told, even walking a mile up and a mile back down a road with a 500 foot elevation gain led to DOMS I haven’t experienced since my marathon in 2013. Days later, I was still a little sore! (Thank goodness for my roller!)

recovery progress

Do you train in a flatter or hillier area?

What are your thoughts on flat running vs hill running?

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25 Responses to flat running vs. hill running

  1. While I don’t love hill training, I do embrace the challenge. For me, it actually feels less of a challenge than continued flat running because your’e constantly using different (alternate?) muscles as you ascend/descend the inclines. It’s not as repetitious. I live about halfway up a hill, so most of my runs start with a good uphill climb right outta the gate LOL

  2. Ha Ha. I only run hills in races and most often I walk up them quickly and then run down them.

    Most places I train on are flat.

    Though many of my out of town races have been hilly!!!

  3. Rachel says:

    Wait, where did you go?? I knew you were gone but missed the memo on where. It looks beautiful!!

    So I run mostly in hill country. And I will say this — FLAT IS SO HARD!!! Lol! I ran the local towpath last weekend and thought I was going to DIE because there was no variation in terrain. Now, having said that, I don’t run on mountains so there’s a distinct difference. 🙂

  4. I live around alot of hills, but I try to run on the flattest routes possible. I can’t completely avoid hills though unless I use the treadmill. Even though I run hills every day I still find them to be very challenging!

  5. I seriously thought I was going to pass out when I tried to run in Colorado last summer. The altitude and the hills together are not something you can just do without adjustment. Hills are tough!

  6. Marcia says:

    Like Florida, the Chicago area is pretty darned flat, so I totally feel you. Flat is always easier for me cuz that’s what I run. When I trained for Boston I had to find “a” hill to train on. Haha! Don’t even get me started on hills + altitude. I was a gasping wreck each time I ran RnRDenver and when I paced a friend for a leg of Leadville at 10,000 ft? Brutal. Strength training is very necessary.

  7. Debbie says:

    Hill running is tough! Especially when you’re a flatlander. 🙂 I live on a hill so I’m basically always either running uphill or downhill (fortunately not too steep).

  8. I mostly run flat routes but there’s an overpass by me that I do hill repeats on. Or I find a trail because most of them are hilly. We also have a cabin in the mountains and those hills plus the altitude can be killer.
    Denise @ runheartfit recently posted…With Summer, Brings New GoalsMy Profile

  9. Catrina says:

    I remember being in Florida for three months and then returning hilly Switzerland.
    Wow! Suddenly, even the smallest hills were exhausting!
    I agree you use completely different muscles going uphill.

  10. Unfortunately I don’t make hill running enough of a priority…the same way that I slack on strength training I slack on hill training. Someday I’ll stop procrastinating and take care of business.
    Beckett @ Birchwood Pie recently posted…Weekly Eats: An Air Fryer UpgradeMy Profile

  11. I have had some great PRs on flat . . . and also on hills (although my fav is downhill racing).

    4700 is a big difference from FL, and it takes some acclimation. I live in a hilly area, but we’re not super high above sea level, either (unless you go up into the mountains, but that’s a good half hour drive at least).

  12. anita vick says:

    I studied human anatomy and physiology. so i agree with you about the different muscles used in uphill. Thanks for the insightful post. Some of us are not just that energetic. May be with right training and environment though.
    anita vick recently posted…5 Best dehumidifier for large room – Buying GuideMy Profile

  13. Andy Waring says:

    I must admit I have a sort of perverse love hate relationship with hills :). I like trying to include at least one hilly session a week.
    My top tip would be to reduce stride length and increase cadence when tackling the hills.
    Andy Waring recently posted…Recommended Treadmills For Home UseMy Profile

  14. Michael J. says:

    I always liked to run up a mountain. I spend less time and more calories. This way I can develop endurance more effectively.

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