Ultrarunning: Hill Training Is Possible Even Without Hills

June 19, 2012

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Hill Training Is Possible Even Without Hills”, please leave it below in the comments section…

When ultramarathon events like those in Leadville and Vermont are mentioned, one of the first things that probably spring up in a runner’s mind is “hills”. This type of terrain is one of the biggest challenges of a trail ultra. It is tough enough that you have to go a total distance that lies between 50 to 100 miles, but to run some or most parts of it going up or down an elevation? Well that’s why they call it an ultra-marathon.

Like most demanding aspects of this extreme endurance sport, you can prepare and train yourself to meet this particular challenge. For those who are fortunate enough to live in or have easy access to areas with this topography, following the specificity of training principle won’t be much of a problem. Those who live on flatlands however will need to find a near enough equivalent. The alternatives that can simulate hill training outlined here aren’t perfect. But wouldn’t you rather have some preparation than none at all?


These machines are the typical indoor substitute when the weather outside is too cold or otherwise unfavorable. Some have even used them for carrying out long run sessions. Not all types of treadmills have an adjustable angle of elevation. Hopefully the ones at the local gym or sports center have this necessary feature. Take note that you’ll only be able to practice for the uphill climb with these machines. Like with most types of regimens, if this is your first time doing hill training, it’s always wise to start slow and gradually build up. Start somewhere around a 3-4 mph pace, use a 15% grade, and do it for 20 minutes. These are just rough estimates and it’s ultimately up to your assessment of your capacity.


This is another indoor alternative favored by runners and you can practice both uphill and downhill on them. It would be better to find a tall building as the climb in some ultramarathons can be really lengthy. When running down the flight of stairs try to be conscious about how you plant your feet. Some veteran ultrarunners note that on a downhill run, landing on the fore foot can be much easier on the quadriceps and knees. Going up taxes your endurance but going down, balance and coordination become more significant factors. Bridges work out the same way, and some prefer them because at least they’re outdoors. Schedule your session when there’s the least amount of pedestrian traffic.

Parking ramps

Just like stairs, these structures offer an uphill and downhill setting. Another advantage is that they’re not hard to find in urban areas. It’s usually the runners who live and work in big cities that don’t have access to hill training. Multilevel parking towers would probably give you a more continuous session. You can also structure repeats, even moving from one parking tower to the next. The likely problems in using them are that you could encounter speeding cars and of course there’s also the exhaust fumes. You’ll have to find the best time when they’re least filled with vehicles like weekends.

Cycling and other cross-training exercises

Cycling, weight training focused on leg strength, and exercises such as squats and lunges are often recommended cross-training activities for runners. Those who do no other exercises except running usually develop an imbalance between their hamstrings and quadriceps muscles. Strong quads are particularly necessary when running downhill to mitigate the eccentric contractions involved. Although these cross-training exercises offer the least amount of simulation, they do increase and balance your leg strength. That’s something you’re certainly going to need when you tackle hills.


Do you have questions about alternative hill training, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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