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How to train for a very hilly trail race? (Read 171 times)

    i am someone who runs most of my runs on relatively flat roads and sidewalks, with an occasional hill/trail run every few weeks. every time i run trails, i am struck by how much slower i am on the uphills compared to the trail runners i am running with, even those who are slower than me on flat or downhill sections. quite humbling.

     

    i am currently training for a road marathon in early march. i will have roughly two months after that to train for a very uphill run (at least for my standards) - ~5000-6000 feet elevation gain, 15-16 miles.

     

    how should i train for this? i was told by more than one person that running a lot of trails will slow me down for my marathon  - i don't know if i buy this entirely. currently i plan on running some 10-14 mile "easy" runs on trails every 10 days or so.  once i'm done with the march marathon, fully shift focus to improving my uphill performance. i have no clue how to do this though, do i just run a lot of uphills? should i do uphill tempo and intervals?

      i was told by more than one person that running a lot of trails will slow me down for my marathon  - i don't know if i buy this entirely. currently i plan on running some 10-14 mile "easy" runs on trails every 10 days or so.  once i'm done with the march marathon, fully shift focus to improving my uphill performance. i have no clue how to do this though, do i just run a lot of uphills? should i do uphill tempo and intervals?

       

      The individual who told you trail running will slow your marathon time is either A) not a runner, B) has never run trails and is parroting something he or she heard from someone else, or C) an idiot.  Trail running is a very beneficial alternative to the daily grind of pounding pavement; doubly so if your training for a very hilly race and your trails are hilly as well.


      Not dead. Yet.

        I was recently training for both a hilly trail race and a half marathon at the same time.  For the first 8 weeks I did my long runs on hilly trails (slowly) and most of my easy runs and intervals, etc on pavement.  I found that when I tried to do a long run at half marathon pace on the pavement it was very difficult.  I think because I had been training at such slower speeds on the trails and because it is such a different stimulus than running on pavement.

         

        As soon as I realized something was wrong, I switched back to pavement for the last several weeks and got in some really good long runs on pavement.  After all was said and run, I ended up getting close to my goal in the half, but not meeting it.  I sucked wind at the trail race.

         

        I think the moral of my story goes back to the rule of specificity.  If you want to do your best in a flat road race, then train on flat roads.  If you want to do your best on trails, then train on them.  If you don't mind doing just ok in both, then mix it up however you want.

        How can we know our limits if we don't test them?

           

          I think the moral of my story goes back to the rule of specificity.  If you want to do your best in a flat road race, then train on flat roads.  If you want to do your best on trails, then train on them.  If you don't mind doing just ok in both, then mix it up however you want.

           

          I'm not sure I buy that old adage.  Why?  Personal experience and that of helping to coach numerous others suggests that mixing it up can make you stronger and faster than if you had limited your training to just one type of venue.

           

          FWIW, I do at least 70% of my training on trails, and of those trails, about half are really hilly and half are almost totally flat.  That said, all of the races I've run this year have been on roads, some have been flat, and some hilly; two were very hilly.  Regardless, my racing pace is easily two to two and a half minutes per mile faster than my training pace on the trails.

           

          You might say, "If you had trained exclusively on flat roads, you would have done even better on the flat road races."  Yeah, I suppose you could say that, however, my relative finish on the flattest of my races this year, the 10K Turkey Trot in Detroit, placed me in the top 5% of all runners in my age group; by far my best position of any race this year.

            small world. sdiazzo, i saw you ran the pt. mugu 18K too - was my first trail race ever. and boy did the uphills kill me. Big grin


            Not dead. Yet.

              small world. sdiazzo, i saw you ran the pt. mugu 18K too - was my first trail race ever. and boy did the uphills kill me. Big grin

               

              Lol.  Small world is right.  It was my first trail race too.  I wanted to do well so bad that I just tried too hard during the race.  I sped up and slowed down and sped up again, etc.  I didn't even enjoy the Ray Miller which is the best part of the whole run.  I did better in training than I did on race day.  I guess it was a good learning experience.  Next time I will try to keep a more even pace.

               

              I think I will run these more for fun for now, and then in a year or two once I get the marathon thing out of my blood, really start training on trails regularly to try to be more competitive.

               

              I just read part of your post again...are you running the LA Marathon in March?!  That would be too weird.  I am and it will be my first marathon.

               

              Whats the trail race you are running with 6000ft elevation?  Sounds like a killer.

              How can we know our limits if we don't test them?

                 

                Lol.  Small world is right.  It was my first trail race too.  I wanted to do well so bad that I just tried too hard during the race.  I sped up and slowed down and sped up again, etc.  I didn't even enjoy the Ray Miller which is the best part of the whole run.  I did better in training than I did on race day.  I guess it was a good learning experience.  Next time I will try to keep a more even pace.

                 

                I think I will run these more for fun for now, and then in a year or two once I get the marathon thing out of my blood, really start training on trails regularly to try to be more competitive.

                 

                I just read part of your post again...are you running the LA Marathon in March?!  That would be too weird.  I am and it will be my first marathon.

                 

                Whats the trail race you are running with 6000ft elevation?  Sounds like a killer.

                 

                I hear you, i'm used to running an even effort and a certain set of paces, i feel my entire form fall apart when i have to slow down and do the uphills. i guess i'll just have to run a lot of uphills before my "hill" muscles learn how to do it in low gear. i did enjoy ray miller though - i still had fresh legs then - maybe because i sucked so bad on the uphills, i walked a lot of it - and had a fast finish.

                 

                i'm indeed running the LA marathon in march, i ran it in 2013 - was my first marathon, and really enjoyed it (except for the overcrowded mile 1).

                 

                there are a few hilly trails around here, and like you, i've had this idea of moving more of my runs onto them from the road. just not sure how to fit them into a marathon training plan without overdoing it - i'm trying to follow a pfitzinger 50-70 mile one, and am not too rigid about it.

                 

                the trail "race" is a handful of (crazy) friends running something to which i got talked into, not really an official race. and now i don't want to be the "silly road runner who can't run trails" Big grin


                I'm back!

                  The individual who told you trail running will slow your marathon time is either A) not a runner, B) has never run trails and is parroting something he or she heard from someone else, or C) an idiot.  Trail running is a very beneficial alternative to the daily grind of pounding pavement; doubly so if your training for a very hilly race and your trails are hilly as well.

                   

                  +1. Of course, it doesn't make sense to do all your marathon training on hilly trails. You need a fair amount of marathon-specific training. That said...

                   

                  This spring, I was training for Boston, using the Hansons plan. It got to where my hamstring injury prevented me from doing most of the speedwork. Eventually I said screw it, there's no point following the plan anymore, I guess Boston will not be a PR. I decided I would just go out and run whatever I felt like every day. That turned out to be lots of hilly trails. A staple was a 9-mile run with 1,500 ft up on the way out, down on the way back.

                   

                  Guess what? I ran a PR at Boston. Turns out, there are loads of benefits to running hilly trails.

                  SillyC


                    Do you have any schools with bleachers or parking garages nearby?  Some friends of mine that live in flat areas train for hilly races by doing a lot of stair climbing.

                      If you want to train for a hilly trail race, then I would recommend at least one hill workout per week plus your long run on hilly trails.  When I say hill workout, I don't mean running a hilly route.  I mean hill repeats totaling 2-4 miles of gain @6-10% and if your course is equal down to up then you need to get some downhill pounding in as well.

                       

                      That has worked pretty effectively for me in races up to 50 miles even though the rest of my runs were pretty flat.  That said, those were not races with that kind of gain per mile.  Is the entire race really runnable or is there a lot of hiking involved?  Depending on that, how you train may also be very different.  I find hiking up very steep grades really trashes my calves and hammies quickly.

                        If I read the OP correctly, it's uphill only - at about 7% slope? The good news is you only need to worry about training for the uphill, and no downhill. Wink  If the trail is technical, you might need some agility work. While you may not need the downhill for your uphill race, that can help you with overspeed for your marathon.

                         

                        FWIW 7% is runnable, assuming decent footing. It's a matter of developing the strength endurance to do it. If your friends will be running the entire way and you want to run with them, then that's your race plan. Wink  If there's some variation in the slope, you might consider a strategic walk break - like run the gentle parts and hike the turning points, which are usually steeper - or at least alter your effort a bit.

                         

                        I agree with what's been said and add a couple other thoughts. Hill workouts will help both your marathon and this hill climb. I like short stuff (alactic, usually < 1 min of work in a rep/interval/whatever) for power this time of year since I may only have short stretch of trail where I have enough traction (snow and ice considerations). Time enough for big hills later.

                         

                        If you're not used to hills, you might consider starting early on getting some hill runs in occasionally. I'm probably a lot older than you and find cramming for hilly races isn't good. YMMV.

                         

                        Something I try to distinguish between in my running is speed work which is things where I go faster (fartleks, downhills, downwind) and "anaerobic" / resistance work which is the uphill. You still do a lot of the same training as for a marathon, but it's partitioned differently.

                         

                        Have fun.

                        (yes, I'm slow, but principles are the same)

                        "So many people get stuck in the routine of life that their dreams waste away. This is about living the dream." - Cave Dog

                          If you want to train for a hilly trail race, then I would recommend at least one hill workout per week plus your long run on hilly trails.  When I say hill workout, I don't mean running a hilly route.

                           

                          This is pretty sound advice even if if you're not training specifically for a hilly race. Hill repeats are one of the best bang for the buck workouts there is--they will improve your fitness for every type of racing, even pancake flat courses.

                           

                          And hilly long runs are just money. As long as the trail is not so technical that you can't get into a decent running rhythm. It's okay if your pace is a bit slower than it would be on roads, you just don't want to have to slow down so much that you're picking your way at just above a walking pace. Since you're in California I doubt that's the case.

                          Runners run.

                            Thanks everyone for the posts. very useful and inspiring. i have some good ideas to work with.

                             

                            So the plan now is I will be running hills roughly once a week, and make some of them long/short hill repeats on the hard days. Maybe even do some of the long runs on hilly trails. Once the marathon is done with and recovered from, hopefully hills wouldnt be such a stranger, and i'll have a better feel for it and know what works for me.


                            Interval Junkie --Nobby

                              Perhaps this is good advice.  I'm probably going to work some of this in, as soon as I can figure out a way to determine the grade of a hill I'm looking at.

                              2014 Goals:  sub-3 Marathon 

                              Current Status 06/19: Pelvic stress-fracture = 6-weeks of no running.

                                Perhaps this is good advice.  I'm probably going to work some of this in, as soon as I can figure out a way to determine the grade of a hill I'm looking at.

                                 

                                I spent the summer running almost daily on a roller-coaster trail very near my home, and the bit in the article you linked regarding downhill training both underscored what I already knew about hill work and added to it.  Thanks for that.

                                 

                                I was recruited at the last minute to run with a young (25+ years younger than me) Reach the Beach - NH 6-person "ultra" team.  During the event I ran six legs totaling 32.8 rather hilly miles with some 2,200' of vertical gain and some 2,500' headed in the other direction.  I didn't suffer near as much on the uphill segments as many of my comrads in the event, however, as I typically take it really easy on the way down, especially as "my" trail is anything but smooth and can gobble up an ankle in a heartbeat, I never really got much downhill training.  After the RTB event my quads were SORE, I mean, difficult getting out of bed and walking to the kitchen sore.

                                 

                                Sounds like I need to find a place to do some downhill training.  Smile

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