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May 13, 2020

One of the main reasons we all fell head over heels for trail running is that it allows us to get out and see the world in all of its glory. The coastlines, the lakes, the forests and the mountains that otherwise might pass us by, are all at our feet.

However all this beauty doesn't come easy, especially when it comes to those pesky hills and mountains. Like anything else, hill running (both up and down) gets easier with practice but that can be tricky, when you live somewhere as flat as a pancake, especially now.

Instead if like us here in York, there isn't a hill to be seen for miles around and lockdowns driving you loopy, you have to get creative.

Here are our top 8 tips for training hills on the flat. 


1. Reconsider what you call a hill. 

Beggars can't be choosers. If the closest thing to a mountain you have locally is nothing more than a small bank. Well it's definitely better than nothing, rest assured if you run up and down it enough, it will certainly start to feel like a mountain.  

2. Take the stairs.


Even if there are no hills for miles and miles around, the chances are that you can at least find a decent set of stairs. Whether that's a tower block, a sports ground or just a few steps up to a building. The same principle as Tip 1 applies.

Also if you aren't already, start simply ditching the escalator/lift and taking the stairs whenever you can.  


3. Multi Storey Car Parks are fantastic.

When it comes to training as a flatlander, it's tempting to focus on just the uphills. Whereas come race day it's the downs as much as the ups, that really take it out of most runners. This is why one of my favourite 'hill' workouts is done in one of those multi storey car parks. Run or even walk up the stairs, then run down the ramps. Repeat ad nauseam.

Again while it's not perfect it does a pretty good job of replicating the climbs and descents of an undulating hilly race. Obviously it goes without saying that the most important thing is to be safe, while these car parks are pretty quiet at the moment running early in the morning or late at night will mean less cars and less people. 

4. Build good movement patterns on a treadmill.

Normally I'm a pretty staunch member of the anti treadmill brigade, mostly because it almost always seems be better to get outside. Hill training for the flatlander however is one of those rare exceptions and if you have one, treadmills can be used to great effect to build good climbing technique.

Don't focus too much on speed or working up a sweat in these sessions, instead work on keeping a good forward lean and expending the least possible energy. 

5. Develop your eccentric strength.

Running long stretches downhill can leave your legs absolutely battered. The reason is that when you run (or walk) the descents, your muscles have to work eccentrically, meaning they are producing force while lengthening at the same time. This causes tonnes of micro tears in your muscles (way more than running up hill) which in turn leaves you super sore. But with the right type of training you can build up a good tolerance to those tough descents. 

One of the best exercises are super slow eccentric squats (taking 5 seconds to squat the weight down, pausing for a second at the bottom and then squatting the weight back up for a second before repeating for 10 to 12 reps), you don't have to have a tonne of weight to make these work either. Grab whatever you have to hand whether that's a small child (preferably your own) or even just a 2L bottle of water and  

6. Drag a Sled.

Sleds are the ultimate DIY workout kit. Find something relatively heavy that you can drag and sprint with it. It doesn't really matter what, a sled, a tyre, the bucket of a wheel barrow or a small car, tie a rope to something heavy and pump those those legs. 

If you can't find a way to rig up a sled with what you have available 100m car pushes will definitely get the job done, just make sure you have someone steering!

7. Hills aren't everything.

Running up hills is slow work. It doesn't matter if you are descended from mountain goats, you will be slower climbing than on the flats.

So if you spend all your time in training climbing, your running economy will suffer and you'll get slower as a result.

You really can build a great mountain base by just training on fast flat ground during for now and hilly trails when you can.

Which leads us nicely on to our last point...

8. Make Do.  

It might be tempting right now with the restrictions easing to leave the hill less countryside behind and head into the mountains for the weekend to get some real hill time in. But right now with the situation as it is, both Mountain Rescue and the locals are pretty clear, if you don't have to be there, stay away from those pretty hills for another few weeks. They'll still be there.

And in the meantime don't let your flat surroundings hold you back when it comes to training for those hilly races. With a little innovation and a lot of hard work you can be beating those mountain dwellers in no time.