Photo: Darlene Prois
You're skating happily along when you turn a corner and see it: The Hill ... Oh, no!
The road ahead is going up, up, up, but your spirits are sinking like a stone.
If that's you, you're already defeated. You'll carry your dread up the hill like a dead weight. Instead, remember the story of the running coach who used to make his team yell, "I love hills! I love hills!" as they climbed.
Before long, the team was flying by the competition.
In fact, you, too, can learn to love hills. All it takes is some positive thinking and a few changes in technique.
Q&A: What should I do differently on hills?
Basically, keep your stroke light and short.
Skating on flat ground is all about maximizing your roll, or forward momentum. But on hills, gravity kicks in. The steeper the hill, the less roll you have to work with. So you have to rely on other means to keep moving.
An effective hill stroke is like working out on a StairMaster. Here are some guidelines:
Should I point my toes to the outside?
Not on purpose. The steeper the hill, the more your feet will naturally turn out into the "duck-walk" position. But having your toes out will interfere with your balance and eliminate what little roll you have going. So it's best to fight the tendency. But don’t be too strict about it. As you would on the flats, make sure your weight is centered over your heels and that you are pushing through the heels, not the toes.
When I start to climb a hill, I am huffing and flailing almost immediately! What am I doing wrong?
You're not pacing yourself. Be patient. Hills are supposed to slow you down. Don't attack the bottom of the hill — it won't get you to the top any faster. Wait until you are two-thirds of the way up before you pick up the pace.
Another problem may be that you are unconsciously leaning forward. A lot of people do this when they climb. But leaning forward just makes climbing harder; it puts weight on your toes, ruins your balance, and takes the wind out of your heel push. Instead, sit back and relax.
And don't forget your mantra: "I love hills!"
Kim Perkins was one of the top women skaters in the United States before retiring from racing last year. She specialized in ultra-distance events, like the Athens to Atlanta Road Skate, which she won in 2002, 2003 and 2004. These days, she coaches privately and is pursuing a graduate degree at San Francisco State University.