We always say that you should train for the event you are entering. Whether it be a flat road marathon or a super hilly trail ultra, your training should prepare you for the conditions of a race. Training for elevation gain is key if you are planning on running an ultra with a big elevation profile.

Hill training is great for two essential reasons:

  1. It maxes out your VO2 (the rate at which your blood carries oxygen to your muscles). This improves cardiovascular ability.
  2. Running up hills strengthens muscles. If you pitch experienced trail runners against those who run on the flat, you will find that the off road runner, who may be slower on the road, is much quicker up hills than the road runner.

Training for Elevation Gain

Some say that you should try and achieve the elevation of a race in your peak week of training. That is all very well as long as you are not trying to complete a Bob Graham Round! Let’s say your race is 7,500 ft of elevation over 50 miles. We use this example because it is something that we have trained for with the Butcombe Ultra. You should aim to spread this out across the week like so:

The Long Run – Two Thirds of Elevation

We would try and achieve 5,000 ft of this with our long run on the Sunday. Over 20-25 miles this is feasible, picking a route that has some decent climb. Not hard when you can run across Crook Peak, Wavering Down and onto Cheddar. The Mendips have some decent climb. It’s even easier to achieve in the Brecons, The Lakes or the Peaks with some great opportunities on Dartmoor or the Quantocks too.

7,306 of elevation across 50 miles looked like this for us

Achieving the Remaining Third

The other 2,500 feet we recommend spreading out across the rest of the week. Hill reps are a great way to get in the elevation. Pick a hill, test out the vert and then work out how much you can achieve with ten reps for example. You should be aiming for approximately 1,000 foot of gain. We have a range of suggested hill rep sessions to choose from that are great for those that are training for elevation.

You can spread the remaining 1,500 foot over two runs or try a 10-12 mile run with some elevation in it.

Don’t Overdo it

You will probably find that you will achieve between 50-60 miles on your peak week. Some will train to a greater level, and some to a lesser extent. Just be careful not to overdo it and risk exhaustion or injury.

If you run 4-5 times per week, make sure at least one of these days is a flat, easy run. Too much elevation crammed in a short space of time can cause issues. Remember, this is your peak week training and not something you have to do every week. For the most part when training for Butcombe, we would achieve between 3000-4000 feet across 40 miles. Also, make sure you include rest or flat, easy runs between hill training sessions.

Plan to Walk the Serious Climbs

Unless you are Killian Jornet with an amazing ability for running 100 miles with thousands of feet of elevation, we recommend your race strategy includes walking the hills. If we are running long, we always walk the steep climbs. If you find yourself maxing out in the early stages of a race, you aren’t going to be able to sustain it. Pace yourself, take it easy and use the hills to refuel, drink and get your heart rate down. Trust us, it’s a tried and tested strategy.