Stair Climbing vs. Hill Repeats

Lately I’ve been doing hill repeats as a way of strengthening as well as getting used to  the ups and downs. The Big Basin 50k that I’m running in June is going to have a lot of that. I’m visiting Bangalore, India for a couple of weeks and the day I arrived, I went out for a mid-morning run. It sure felt like Premium Rush, only on feet instead of bikes! After avoiding all sorts of crazy traffic, pedestrians, interesting and challenging sidewalks (!!!) and inhaling the smoke and dust, I pretty much gave up on it. The next day I went to the local gym, hopped on the treadmill for a 10-miler. While I got my miles in, it just didn’t feel the same. As luck would have it, I happend to read an article in Outside Magazine on the Empire State Building stair climbing race and it piqued my interest.

Stair Climbing vs. Hill Repeats

Stair Climbing

Stair Climbing – photo courtesy uggboy

In Silicon Valley, where I live, there are tons of beautiful trails but not many easily accessible high rise buildings (not counting San Francisco). So I really haven’t tried much stair climbing to see how they differ from hill repeats. However, my Bangalore residence is in a 7-story apartment complex and I decided to give that a try today. Each story has 19 steps and I ended up running up and down the 7 stories, 15 times. That’s 1,995 steps in one day! The Empire State Building run-up goes from the ground level of the to the observation deck on the 86th floor, spanning 1,050 vertical feet and 1,576 steps. So not bad at all and it felt amazing! But as I was going up and down the stairs I noticed a number of things that are different about stair climbing compared to hill repeats.

  • The most immediate one is, try not to look down at the steps while running. At least for me, my thought process was interfering with my rhythm and I tripped over a couple of times.
  • Depending on how steep the hills are, you might end up heel striking. Not so with stair climbing, either up or down. You automatically run on the balls of your feet and that’s a good thing!
  • It took me a while to figure out how best to run downhill while minimizing impact. With stair climbing. I found myself naturally bending my knees to absorb the impact, was landing on the balls of my feet with my shoulders relaxed.
  • The run down is a great way to get your heart rate low before the next ascent begins, making this an excellent way to do interval training.

I’m hooked on stair climbing and hoping to get to 25 repeats before I head back home in a week. Have you tried stair climbing? What did you observe that was different from hill climbing?

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