Hill training in a flat area

I have a race scheduled in the fall that has some very long but runnable hills (4-5 mile stretches). However, I just moved to a very flat area (no hills like the ones in my race, but plenty of short steep hills (<0.5 mile long)).

What’s the best strategy for training for the hills in my race? I don’t have access to a treadmill, but I’ll happily strength train and/or do shorter hill repeats if those are good methods.

Hey Rachel…in my experience, nothing prepares my body for hills more than focused low-weight and high rep lower body strength movements.

I have relied heavily on lunges (both forward and side lunges) and step-ups (starting low and building up to a 16" step or so)…

For most people, myself included, sustained downhill running (4-5 mile stretches in your case) can be more brutal on the body than sustained uphill running.

For the uphills, focus on the muscles running along the back of your body (think calf, hamstring, and glutes). For the downhills, think the front of your leg, primarily your quads.

Also, if possible before the race, maybe travel somewhere to tackle a shorter race with some hills (I know that is often easier said than done).

Best of luck and enjoy the journey!

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Hi David–thanks so much, these are great tips. That’s a good point about downhills too, I’ll focus on strength training pretty much all of my lower body! And yes, hopefully traveling will get easier this year!!

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@davidc made great points above. I’d second his thoughts about the downhills…if you’re expecting to encounter long downhill sections, it might be worth getting some knee straps, too. My knees almost always give out before my legs. There are tons of good brands - Nike, Pro Tec, Cho Pat. But they might be worth a peek!

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Thanks @mk717 ! I will check those brands out! I’ve previously relied on KT tape, but that stuff hasn’t been very durable with dirt/sweat/etc. Probably time to bite the bullet and add proper knee straps to my stash!


I asked this question on a coaching webinar that Athletics Ireland ran a few weeks back. The reply came from a World Masters Mountain Running top 10 finisher who had trained largely in flat areas.

You can use the hills you have quite effectively by doing a “Kenyan Hills” type set of repeats to effectively lengthen the hill. So instead of run up and jog down, run up and run down for a set amount of time then rest/recover and repeat.

That plus the strength training others have suggested should be a great help.


Yep. I believe in Kenyan Hill. Those are great help and can be really effective if you use it wisely.

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Additional to the above tips don’t forget to use stairs for intervall training in your surrounding.

Hey, training on hill will certain help but is not something definatory for the race outcome. I ran my first trail race (placed in the first 10%, above runners with experience in trail races or which are living in hilly/mountain area) while I was training for a road halfmarathon. What I did in training at that moment was the following:

  • Keep consistency every week;

  • One long run per week;

  • At least one speed workout per week. Most of them being short hill sprints (10-15 seconds all-out).

Focusing on endurance and including some speed workouts will make the hills manageable. Also that 0.5 mile steep climb is good for interval training.

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That’s a good point in terms of speed workouts, @radu91 . The hills you encounter in a race obviously add a different element of difficulty, but if you’ve trained your body to be able to absorb shocks to your output/effort level, then the hills shouldnt be that much of a drag.

I live in Baton Rouge, LA. It is very flat here. Sometimes we go to the largest overpass we can find (only about 40’ of hill) and run repeats on the hill up and over 10x (5 back and forth) at a moderate but determined pace, then run a 5k time trial pretty much, and then recover again on the same hill 10 more times but much slower. The resulting run would come out to around 12 miles. I’ve found this tactic to work well even on intense ultras like mountain mist 50k (which features a mountain). If you need a break doing hill workouts, you should really not be stopping or walking. Slow down, get to the top because it’s the downhill you want to use to recover.