​How to Practice Hill Running When You Have No Hills

Of course, it would be ideal to live and exercise where big climbs are in abundance. If you don’t have this type of terrain, there are a few things you can do.

A man riding a skateboard down the side of a building: How to Practice Mountain Running When You Have No Hills Near You

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How To Practice Mountain Running When You Have No Hills Near You.

While you may not be able to reproduce the exact vertical increase in these races, you can mimic the intensity to simulate it. Our body perceives exertion based on heart rate and breathing rate. Whether it’s a straight climb or a quick workout, we can simulate this tough exertion.

To simulate these demanding races, you must complete some of your training at the upper limits of your aerobic capacity and exceed your anaerobic threshold. Simply put, aerobic capacity refers to the body’s ability to move and use sufficient amounts of oxygen to meet the needs of working muscles. (You are usually comfortable exercising in this zone.)

As the intensity of your exercise increases, your breathing and heart rate increase as you try to keep up with the body’s need for oxygen. The anaerobic threshold is the point in exercise when the body begins to produce an abundance of lactic acid because there is not enough oxygen for the muscles to work. You may have experienced this phenomenon during a speed workout or during the final sprint to the finish line on a 5km course.

You should continue your endurance training on the trails and at the same time include intensity in the mix. To minimize the risk of fatigue and injury, gradually add harder exertion. Start by adding one vigorous workout per week, and after several weeks of acclimatization, add a second vigorous workout to your week. Look out for signs of overtraining: persistent sore muscles, tiredness, higher heart rate than normal, insomnia, or mental burnout.

The overall goal is a mix of endurance training and intense workouts throughout the training cycle, with at least one day off per week for rest and relaxation. Here are some suggestions to prepare you mentally and physically for a hill climb.

Have perspective

Posture is important in any race, but especially when you know you are going to face challenging situations. Attending an event of this type requires a certain level of mental strength and realistic expectations, so it helps to keep an eye on things. Focusing on the experience itself will be vital.

Take baby steps

Begin this new adventure by first finding races with limited vertical climbing and seeing how you are. Then gradually increase the difficulty level of the subsequent races. In other words, find the “easiest” trail race that appeals to you so you can find your way around. That way, you can prepare for greater challenges.

Improve running form

Some runners are natural mountaineers – regardless of where they live or train – and can climb any incline with surprising ease. Runners with a short stride, quick leg change, and upright posture tend to do well on hills. If this isn’t your natural way of running, work on improving your form to look very much like this model.

Perfect climbing shape

As you climb, you pump your arms and your legs will follow. Keep your head up and your eyes forward. And try this exercise to find out if your cadence is fast enough: Count the number of times your feet hit the ground in a minute as you run. (It’s often easier to count your steps for 15 or 30 seconds and multiply them by four or two.) The goal is 180 steps or more in a minute. If you’re below that target number, Coach Jenny Hadfield has a great opportunity to correct that overshoot.

Add speedwork

Try this once a week. If you’re new to speed, start by incorporating pressure surges during a tempo run or on the course. For surges, try running hard for three minutes and easy for one minute. For on-track speedwork, try running a 1200 (three laps) at a hard pace, jogging a 200 (half a lap) for recovery, and then immediately doing a 400 (one lap) at a hard pace. Repeat after three to four minutes of recovery. Gradually increase the number of sets you do.

Include stairs and slopes

A simple trick is to set a treadmill to 12 to 15 percent and take short bumps at that level. Some gyms also have climbing equipment that works both your arms and legs. Running up stairs or grandstands (a great workout whether you’re training for a hilly race or not) is another way to increase the intensity and simulate climbing. Since you don’t have any hills nearby, you can find and redo overpasses or bridges in your area. Always warm up first by walking easily for one to three miles and then tackling your “hill”. Start with two to three reps and build from there. (Walk part of the descent; it’s not just about the climb.)


Try HIIT training

Take a high-intensity interval course or stream a home workout. This type of workout should be an intense, high heart rate workout that includes short runs with other types of cardio and strength exercises. This HIIT plan for runners is a great place to start.

Don’t skip strength training

Add weight training to build muscle strength and endurance, and target your calf muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. (You can find great workouts and exercises that help all of these areas on our Strength Training page.)

Focus on core work

Maintaining a good running posture helps minimize fatigue, so work on the strength of your stomach and back. (This 10-minute workout is perfect.) Core exercises can be done daily or try yoga or Pilates once or twice a week.

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