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How to train for hills where (or when) there are no hills

Six treadmill workouts from two national team members

Hill Training

Despite living in some of the flattest areas of North America, Calum Neff and Megan Franks are two of Canada’s top trail and mountain runners. Both reside in the southern United States and take to the treadmill to simulate the elevation come race day.

Neff, who is perhaps best known for holding the world record for the fastest marathon and half-marathon with a stroller, will represent Canada at the IAU World 50k Trail Championships on June 10 in Italy. Franks is coming off a third-place finish in the 50K at the Calgary Marathon.

All six workouts are recommended on the treadmill with varying usage of inclines.

What Neff recommends

‘Treadmill Challenge’: 15 minutes at 15 per cent incline, furthest distance

“A common dueling treadmill format at events like Outdoor Retailer Show, this is a simple tempo style workout of seeing how far you can make it in 15 minutes,” Neff says.

‘No Pace Change Hill Repeats’: 10 x 3 minutes at 10 per cent include with 2 minute 0 per cent incline recovery

“This is one of my classic treadmill workouts, if I were to only run on a treadmill once a month this would be my workout,” he adds. “Warmup at you regular everyday easy run pace, typically its about 2 minutes per mile slower than your 5K race pace. Without changing the pace for the rest of the workout you simply increase the incline to 10 per cent (+/- 5 per cent depending on your fitness level) and hold for 3 minutes before dropping back to 0 per cent incline for a two-minute recovery. Early in your fitness buildup try and complete 4-6 of these repeats, eventually working your way up to completing a total of 10 before cooling down.

‘The Replica’: Take the elevation profile of the course and break down each section of climbing and descending into a percentage of the total course (in time, which Neff recommends, or distance)

Example: for a 50K, every 1K is equal to 2 per cent of the total course, along with the average grade for each section. Complete the desired amount depending on fitness and how close you are to race day.

Other ways to prepare for hills without hills:
– Stroller running
– Squats and Lunges, stability exercises
– Cycling
– Stairs

Neff resides in Katy, Texas.

What Franks recommends

Yesterday's mountain running training session kicked my butt and I didn't finish. It was 8 x 5 min with 2 min jogging in between, alternating between 5 min @ 10 incline and as fast as I could run, and then the next 5 min @ goal 10k pace and 0. I made it through 6 of them and then had to fartlek the rest of the way. I also sweat so bad my shoes were sliding off the treadmill belt. I think it was Max King that said hill work is speed work in disguise…and I tend to agree. I always feel like I ran an all out 800m/1500m double after these mountain running prep sessions. Just 10 days until I try to qualify for 50k World Championships, and then 2 weeks after that, Mountain Running World Championships. Those are two pretty huge goal, but I feel like I'm as prepared as I can be. My husband always says "Never regret trying to do great things with your sport." I'm looking forward to giving it my all. (Note: shorts are from @runinrabbit they are called "legs" and they are my new favorite. I'm wearing size medium. Click the link in my profile to save 10% off your first order). #rabbitelite #runinrabbit #borntorunfree #runningoutfit #mountainrunning #mountainrunningchampionship #canadianmountainrunning #canadianrunning #runningmom #50kworldchampionship #calgaryultra #calgarymarathon @calgarymarathon @run_relentless

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Right off the bat, Franks uses this pace calculator to find the equivalent pace for certain treadmill inclines.

800m repeats or 10 x 3 mins hard with 90 seconds to 2 mins easy jogging in between (at 0 per cent)

Alternate 3 minutes at 8-10 per cent incline at half-marathon effort (using the hill runner chart) with 3 min at 0-0.5 per cent include at 10K pace.

“This workout helps me build strength for a mountain race, while helping me to maintain some speed for a flat 10k or half marathon,” she says. “It can be a little challenging towards the end, so I recommend starting with 4-5 repeats and increasing the number of reps as you get stronger.”

1,500m repeats or 6-8 x 5 mins with 2 mins easy jogging in between (at 0 per cent)

Alternate between 5 min at 8-10 per cent incline at slightly-faster than marathon effort (or half -marathon effort if you can handle it), and 5 min at 0-0.5 per cent include at half-marathon pace.

“This workout is really tough and I almost always have a hard time finishing it,” Franks adds. “It is supposed to simulate miles repeats, so I’ve also done a variation with 6-7 minutes and less reps. For someone doing it the first time, I might recommend four reps to start. Great strength builder.”

Broken tempo: 4 x 10 min at 8-10 per cent incline and marathon effort with 5 minutes very easy jogging in between

“This one hurts,” she says. “I would recommend doing it at a public place so you’ll have accountability and someone to peel you up off the floor when you are finished. Also, it’s always best to be cautious on pace and incline early and increase the effort to make the workout more challenging. This was my best session in preparation for NACAC [North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships] last year, which was an all up-hill course. So, if you are preparing for some really intense climbing, you may want to give this one a try.”

Franks adds that she warms up for 3.5-5K before each of the sessions and cools down for the same amount of time or distance. Pro tip: have a towel and water on hand to deal with the sweat.

Franks resides in Starkville, Miss.