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Flatlander Training Tips To Complete A Hilly Ultramarathon

Bandera-hillsThe race is hilly or maybe even mountainous. You live in the flatlands. What are ways to prepare for something like this?

This was my exact issue this winter as I was preparing for the Bandera 100 km trail run. This course is definitely not mountainous but does have some decent technical climbs for someone living in the fairly flat Dallas area.

Here are a few methods to prepare for this type of challenge.

Become familiar with the Course

Ideally, get some miles on the actually course. Nothing can prepare the body and mind better than the actual dirt, rock, and climbs of the race course. If that is not possible (as it wasn’t for me), there are still ways to prepare.

Most race sites have course profiles where you can see what kind of climbs and descents you are going to have to deal with. Some will even have pictures to provide an even greater visual on the terrain. If no pictures on the race site, search for some race reports which may provide pictures and/or further course insight.

Bandera-rocksFor Bandera, this was good to know as the terrain is quite technical (rocky) is various sections throughout the trail. Based on the 100 km profile, I knew the terrain is quite varied with the biggest climbs in the 300 ft range.

Good stuff to know but what do you do with it?

Simulate Course Conditions Where You Can

After becoming familiar with the particular trail running course, it is time to put some of the conditions into your weekly training.

This could include:

  • Finding a local trail that may some remotely similar trail conditions (footing conditions or climbs).
  • Find a road route that has some elevation changes.
  • Simulate climbs with a treadmill.
  • Use a stair-stepper to build hiking strength.
  • Find a big hill in your area to do hike/run repeats.
  • Walk up/down multiply flights of stairs.
  • Visit a local athletic stadium and do some repeats on the steps.

What are some other ways you prepare for the grade when living in the flatlands?

In my prep for Bandera, I incorporated the following into my training.

  • I found a local trail that had some smaller climbs and rock littered sections of trail. Although the rocks weren’t as nasty as Bandera, they did force mental concentration or you would go down.  I ran on this trail three times as my weekly long run.
  • One or twice a week, I ran a moderate length (10-ish miles) road route that incorporated some rollers.
  • Once a week I ran a progressive treadmill hill repeat workout that included moderate grades of running and larger grades of hiking. This would provide some training stimulus for the moderate rollers of the Bandera course and the larger climbs. Below is an workout example.
    • 1 mile warm-up
    • [1/2 mile @ 5%, 1/4 mile @ -3%, 1/4 mile @ 0%]
    • [1/2 mile @ 8%, 1/4 mile @ -3%, 1/4 mile @ 0%]
    • [1/2 mile @ 10%, 1/4 mile @ -3%, 1/4 mile @ 0%]
    • [1/2 mile @ 12%, 1/4 mile @ -3%, 1/4 mile @ 0%]
    • hike repeats: 2-3 X [(400-500 ft) @ (15-21%), 1/4 mile @ 0%]
    • Cool down
    • Note: The health club treadmill was a FreeMotion unit that had a grade range between -3 – 30% and also displays feet elevation gain. Pretty cool!
  • Due to the weather conditions outside, I also ran a couple course simulation runs (up to 20 miles) on the FreeMotion treadmill (yes, on the treadmill) where I tried to mirror the actual course as best I could. The downhill sections could only be pegged at -3% due to treadmill limitations. I printed off the course profile map and made a few grade estimates for some of the climbs and just followed it in a general sense as best I could. Most thought I was crazy for doing this but I actually enjoyed it.

Be creative and do the best with the local resources available to you.

Race and Learn

After preparing the best you can, it’s time to race. After the race assess how you responded to the climbs and descents. What, if anything, would you change in your training to better prepare?

From my Bandera adventure, my legs never felt smoked from any of the climbs throughout the entire 100 km distance. Of course, pacing and nutrition will also have something to do with overall energy levels. The rock littered trail never really bothered me and I think my local trail provide enough technicality to have me ready for crazy foot terrain.

Structurally I wasn’t as strong in handling the larger descents and my left knee became sensitive to the downhill pounding. The downhill training was probably lacking. I could benefit from developing more downhill strength.

With a bit of creativity with the resources available to you, preparation for many challenging trail running events is at least somewhat possible while living in a fairly flat area of the country. What about high elevation? Well, that is another story.

Please share any training ideas that have helped you prepare for challenging terrain.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

4 Responses to “Flatlander Training Tips To Complete A Hilly Ultramarathon”

  1. on 27 Jan 2010 at 6:09 pm Greg Luffey

    When I ran Bandera I did the 50K the first year and then came back the next for the full 100. I’m doing the same at TRT. I ran the 50 mile last year to see how I performed in the higher elevation. I’m registered for the full 100 this year. We will see.

  2. on 28 Jan 2010 at 1:03 pm David Hanenburg

    Hey Greg – The progressive approach is a smart one as well. Nice idea. Good luck at TRT! That is a beautiful region.

  3. on 01 Aug 2012 at 9:43 pm Michael

    Two other ideas for practicing hills. I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – just North of North Dakota. It is very flat here. Tonight I ran sprints in a parking garage. I had 7 floors of gradually sloping run to the top. I ran up and down four times. The other option that we have not tried yet is a clover leaf. There are many on the Perimeter Highway that rings are city. The shoulder is wide and I think doing all four leaves of the clover Leaf will be very good.

    Love the site. Thanks,

    Training for the Canadian Death Race.

  4. on 07 Aug 2012 at 12:03 pm David Hanenburg

    Hey Michael – Great tips! I know many Houston, Texas runners that run the parking garages as well. Thanks for sharing and the kind words on the site. All the best at CDR!