Runners head out for the 5K run/walk during the 2016 Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run at Saguaro National Park East. This year’s event is Monday, Sept. 4.

This is the third in an ongoing series on taking advantage of the Tucson area’s fitness activities this fall


Many of the upcoming running races in Tucson have hills in them. Whether Saguaro Labor Day 8-miler or the 5K, you’ll be running lots of uphills and lots of downhills. The new TMC Tucson 10K at Pima Community College West has rolling hills that climb for the first portion of the race, then rocket ships downhill for the most of the final miles. The TMC Get Moving Tucson Half-Marathon goes up and down “A” Mountain, while the Everyone Runs Half-Marathon on the west side of the Tucson Mountains will roll up and down amongst the western foothills of the Tucson Mountains. Throw in the bumps on Reid Park at the popular Thanksgiving Day 5K and you have yourself a busy hill period.

Don’t be afraid: hills are your friend. Both walkers and runners can do hill workouts that will improve their fitness and make it easy to go both uphill and downhill.

I’d suggest two types of workouts that can be done by both walkers and runners. All ages and all abilities can do these, but be careful about over-exerting yourself if you’re new to this sort of exercise. We’ll focus on uphills — too much sustained fast running on a downhill slope may lead to sore knees and sore thighs.

One workout is an easy hill wind sprint: make sure you are warmed up (jog or walk for at least 10-15 minutes first). Find a 50- to 100-yard section of a manageable grade — it could be one of the grass hills at Reid Park, it could be your driveway, it could be any of those hills on the edge of town. Once you’ve done at least 10-15 minutes warm up, then do an easy sprint up the hill section — before you get too tired, you should turn around and easily come down the grade. Repeat this 6-8 times — gentle sprint up, easy on the way down.

Now, how does a walker sprint, you may ask — simple, do a power walk and with a gentle forward lean drive your arms and get to a speed where you land on your toes.

The second workout requires a longer segment of hill. If you’re familiar with Sabino Canyon, think of the main tram road — that first half-mile to the top is a good example of this sort of hill. Make sure the grade is gradual and make sure it takes you 2-3 minutes to get up it. Now, warm up for 10-15 minutes, then go to the base of the hill and make your way to the top at a peppy, slightly uncomfortable speed. At the top, turn around and go back to the bottom at an easy and comfortable pace. Find a speed that will let you do this five times.

Walkers and runners should work on good form when doing hill repetitions. Try not to curl or fold your upper body — just lean gently forward, as if you’re falling into the hill. Keep your arms low so that your hands brush the top of your shorts. Try to land on your toes or your forefoot. This is an easy way to be smooth and comfortable. If you overreach with your hands, you’ll also overstride — and landing on your heels going uphill will just slow you down and make you unhappy.

The concept holds for downhill running, too: When running downhill on a paved road, let your legs out in front of you so that you land easily on your midfoot or forefoot — try not to break with your heels and try not to lean backwards. Let gravity be your friend and let you fall your way down a hill. (It’s a bit different when running downhill on a typical Tucson trail: you’ll probably be a bit more upright and you’ll pick your way down among the rocks, still not leaning backward and still keeping your hands nice and low, in an athletic stance.)

The goal with doing these sorts of hill workouts is simply to get out of your comfort zone: breathe a bit harder, work your arms a bit more and get your legs tired. If you’re already in shape, do these at a fast clip and go get tired. If you’re new to this sort of thing, be sure to go at a slow enough pace to keep you happy.

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