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Junior Fell Training

Many runners from disciplines other than fell running will at some time or other introduce a hill rep session into their training.  The value of such training - if done right - is not in doubt.  In fell running, for obvious reasons, it is considered a necessity, so the following guidelines will give you some idea on how you should tackle this important aspect of your training.

The first thing to remember is that the old adage “you can’t get too much of a good thing” does not apply here.  For junior runners, running too many hills can create problems.  For every foot you climb you have to descend - unless you are lucky enough to have an alternative transport arrangement.  Running hills is much more tiring than flat training, even up pace running.  So introducing hills into your training has to be gradual and balanced with the rest of your training.  Running hills also constitutes a shortened stride and too many hills can reduce overall stride length.  There are also many areas that come under additional stress when working hard on the hills, your breathing can become much more laboured, your legs can become very heavy with lactate, and stresses to the Achilles, Hamstrings and Gluts are much more pronounced.  Heart rates and temperatures can also rise more quickly, especially in the younger athletes.

So your probably asking is it worth the trouble?  The answer is ‘yes’.  Although there are many permutations of hill session, they are founded basically on three types:

  • Short fast runs of no more than 30 seconds
  • Extended climb of 3-5 min
  • Long climbs over 5 min plus

There are also endurance runs where you encounter hills without a repetition base.

Short fast runs:
Runs of no longer than 30 seconds, where high lactate levels (heavy leg feeling) are induced with a quick rise in heart rate.  Full running action is employed with vigorous action from arms, shoulders and trunk muscles with a good strong leg lift.  The value being that your body adapts to the high lactate levels and its removal, and with all major muscle groups involved for strengthening, plus an elevated rate of breathing and heart rate, excellent conditioning takes place.  The number of reps and actual time values need careful consideration for the various junior age groups - as they do on all hill rep sessions (so advice is required).  The gradient should allow for a good running action and should not be too steep - these efforts can easily be done on a section of road.  A slow jog back to the start for recovery is sufficient, effort level 90% and above (much faster than race pace).  This session is very demanding and consideration of what sessions go before and after it require careful planning (allow at least three days before racing).

3-5 Minute runs:
This session requires the ability to judge the pace correctly, starting too fast can soon lead to walking, and the idea of this session is for continuous running.  The hill on this session requires to be steep enough to encourage a knee lift and a good arm action, but without the problems of lactate or gasping for breath.  In terms of pace 80-85% of max effort would probably give a pace slightly faster than race pace for a climb of double the distance.  The real test is whether or not you can complete the full session with near enough equal times.  Too fast a descent and the short recovery will ruin the session’s intentions.  Heart rates rise very quickly on this session but should settle back around the point at which the rate of lactate is just held at bay.  Which means that the burning sensation in your legs does not interfere with your running action.

5 Minutes plus:
Long sustained runs for strength endurance are an enjoyable way, of both running on the hills and achieving a training effect.  An economical style of running is required with little arm action, and minimal leg lift.  Keep the body relaxed and you’re breathing under control - run tall on the hill with little forward lean.

Although this session is easier in intensity the total time of the session can make it demanding for a junior.  Again it’s a matter of grading and commonness in relation to the total time of the session.

General Hill Rules

Consciously try hard to shorten your stride as you engage the hill, the length of stride being in keeping with the gradient.  Many juniors run with too long a stride when climbing and put undue strain on their legs.  Try to run on top of the hill by being light on your feet, predominantly on your toes.  Keep your body at right angles to the hill.  Breathing should be rhythmically linked with the running action, and the arms should play a major role in helping the leg rhythm.  Look for good foot holes as you climb so that good traction is obtained.  Shoes must be tightly laced; shoes that wobble about especially on the descent may allow the ankle to go over.

Check your fell shoes at home by placing them on a flat surface and check from the back to see how far they lean over.  If your shoes already lean inwards then imagine how far they would lean when wet and in a contouring situation.  Your shoes must have good studs with plenty of grip and not too much pronation (lean).

Hill training can be very demanding and the intensity of a session has to be carefully aligned with the ability of the junior.  However, those juniors who choose to race on the fells have to be accustomed to the intensity and effort that fell running brings, so your training has to reflect that.

Training on the hills should be done constructively, not destructively.  Enjoy your running.

Norman Matthews © 2001-2004
Head Senior Coach
Horwich RMI Harriers