… when you live nowhere near the mountains

As coaches, we often get asked, “I live nowhere close to mountains or even a hill that would take me longer than 30 seconds to run up. How am I supposed to train for a race with a bunch of vertical?”
We know a lot of people don’t have access (or the time) to find terrain that would match the mountainous race they want to train for. They may have a fast marathon time, but every time they’ve tried to translate that flat, road marathon speed into a mountainous race, it just never goes according to plan.

Long story short… YESit is definitely possible to train for hilly and mountainous races despite not having readily available access to the terrain you’ll be racing on. For today’s newsletter, Coach @SandiNypaver will take you through her tips for training for a mountainous race if you consider yourself someone who is a “flatlander.”I’ll try to put you into one of my athlete’s shoes: they live and train in Denmark, and they’re currently signed up for Transvulcania, a 72km race with 4600m (~15,000 feet) of climbing. Needless to say, Denmark isn’t exactly known for its mountains and Transvulcania is known for being an extremely difficult Ultra Marathon. Here’s how I would tell them how to prepare:

Step 1: Do Your Research 🔬You may find yourself not being able to travel to the race early enough to get a true sense of the terrain. Or, it’s not feasible to take a separate trip out to scope the route. Something like Transvulcania is on an exotic island, so you may only have race day to really take in the actual landscape. Don’t sweat it! These days, there are plenty of information available on online forums, videos, and websites for almost every ultramarathon out there, with a few exceptions (looking at you, Barkley Marathon…). We encourage our athletes to try to get a sense of the terrain by Youtubing videos of other people doing the race. Add the location of the race to your weather app weeks in advance so you can try to see what could possibly happen throughout the course of the race. Use an app like Strava so you can look at people who have done the course before. This way, you can see the gradients some of the hills are.

Step 2: The Treadmill is Your Friend 💕I’m sure this isn’t the answer you were looking for, but the treadmill can be an amazing tool for those needing to practice gaining some serious vertical. By no means am I saying that you need to run every run on this, but even if you can get a key workout in here and there on the treadmill and incorporate workouts with an incline that would mimic your race terrain, you’ll have a tremendous benefit from it. Even if you just use the treadmill to do an all uphill “power hike,” it will help you out tremendouslyNote: If you’re unsure how much vertical you should add to your training plan, or what good workouts are for ultra marathons, we explain our thoughts in detail in our Training Guide (included with all training plan purchases). Our Ultra Marathon Training Plan will give you even MORE tips and tricks for uphill and downhill efforts.

Step 3: Search far and wide for the longest hill in your area 🔎Yes, I realize this newsletter is for people who are not able to access hilly and mountainous terrain. But, I encourage you to try and find a hill or two somewhere that you could make work. Again, even if you can only get to it one day a week for a key workout, this will really help your climbing abilities. A staircase or bleachers can also substitute vertical gain. Once you’ve found your coveted hill, do hill repeats at an easy to moderate pace. On the flip side of this all, doing this will also help prepare your quads for the downhill. We often find that people underestimate the amount of stress your quads take on the downhill, and you don’t want them to give out halfway through the race!

Step 4: Before the race starts, mentally prepare yourself 🧠We offer a lot of mindset tips in our ALL IN Add On Training Guide, but to briefly touch on this topic: I know going into a race with a lot of unknowns can be super scary (such as running a mountain ultra-marathon when you’ve barely trained on mountains). Going into the race, and even during your training cycle, continually tell yourself things like: “I’m going to do the best I can.” “I’ll pay attention to where I can step.” “I’ll work and move with the terrain, and take things at my own pace.” These mantras and positive self-talk truly helps.

Step 5: When it comes to race day, start off even easier than normalOf course, you are there to race and push your body, but I want my athlete to start off quite easy, especially at a race like Transvulcania. Don’t worry what others are doing around you, but rather focus on yourself. You want to be feeling good for at least the first half of the race, otherwise you may be in for a long day. Most people take on the first climb of the race way too fast, way too hard, and way too early, and you will pay for it later on. If you start conservative at the base of the hill, you can better pace yourself all the way up. Furthermore, you can always speed up if you decide to go slow at the beginning of the hill. If you start too fast, well, you may be regretting it halfway through.

Even though it’s easier said than done, try to view running a mountainous ultra as a challenge if coming from little-to-no mountain experience. I know it’s uncomfortable, but I’ve grown the most in life with these types of situations. Going in with a positive mindset can be the difference of you walking and wanting to quit versus feel good and taking the hills at a good tempo.