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No Hills Near You?

Not everyone who races the fells has the luxury of hills on their doorstep, but undertaking a comprehensive training programme with cross training and adding a few other aspects to your training can help minimise this problem.

The cross training aspect is a useful means of maintaining your aerobic base and conditioning the legs for climbing, getting the bike into action is the first move.  I know that mountain bikes donít like the road!  But climbing up good steep road hills can be just as invigorating as a fell if you put some effort into it.  Those who have cycle turbo trainers in the garage are well able to do a wide variety of quality sessions, which if done with purpose and planning, can have near equal training effect to running the fells although I must admit itís not as enjoyable.  If you are fortunate enough to have the use of a gym or fitness centre, then itís a nice change to get stuck in to some of the latest machinery to raise your heart rate.

When looking at the many facets of training itís important to visualise the comprehensiveness of all that is required to become a better athlete and not just the time spent running miles.  Yes, you can run well without having great speed, style or flexibility, but if you did have these extra qualities I can guarantee that you would run better.  The following five elements are the basis for your running performance: Speed - Strength - Stamina - Suppleness - Style.


Most fell runners do little in the way of true speed work; only those enlightened in the ways of true progression venture on the track or do serious fartlek training.  The adaptations that take place physiologically happen much more quickly when the pace is high; working at or around 90% of maximum heart rate over short distances is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness.  Dr Woldemar Gerschler - the renowned German coach - went one further by saying that an athlete could achieve in 6 weeks what would take 12 weeks of steady running to achieve.

It is not the speed of running that you are trying to achieve but the physiological improvement that this type of session brings.  It is not necessary to wear a heart rate monitor or to be particularly clued up on times or distance - coaches do have many controlled sessions that are monitored by heart rates for their individual athletes - it is simply a matter of running short distances under 400 metres faster than your short race pace, with short recoveries - starting with about eight and working up to twenty.

Typical session: 8 x 200m @ 34 secs with 1 min recovery.  (200 metre time should be 6 secs slower than fastest 200m time).  Working towards 2 x 10 x 200m @ 30 secs with 1 min recovery.

3 minutes between sets.  Ease into the sessions and do just one a week.  Progression over many weeks is the key, adding a slight increase in stress with each new session.


You can never have too much strength and every effort should be made in finding time for a leg strengthening routine, which will inevitably reap rich rewards.  You do not want to gain muscle mass but what you have got needs to be conditioned to respond to the demands of your sport, and if that means climbing 3000ft in a race then additional strength work to cater for that can be a major boost to your form.

It does take discipline to do short road hill reps once a week, or some form of regular leg strengthening exercise.  Lunges, step-ups, single legs are all capable of enhancing your leg strength.


There are ways to improve stamina without the necessity of doing a three-hour Sunday run, although running for hours at a time is an excellent way to gain race stamina, but not everyone has the time.  If you are looking for a less time-consuming way, then long intervals can be very effective.

VO2 max levels can be increased considerably - again it means running quicker than usual.  There are many sessions that can be used; the following is just one of them, if you can find a park or softer running it would be helpful.

After a warm up run at maximum speed for five minutes, and note the distance, rest five minutes, and then run the same distance 20 per cent slower (six minutes).  Take 30 seconds rest and repeat four times.  The pace will be approximately your 10k pace.  Again ease into the sessions with progression to ten intervals.  It will take a couple of sessions to find the right pace.  Allow a recovery day either side of the session, with steady running.


There is no doubt that regular stretching should be an integral part of every runnerís training regime.

The majority of runners have a few token stretches that they do before a race - more out of conformity than a commitment in preparing the muscles for rigorous exercise.  Running fast or doing high mileage puts great stress on muscles and connective tissue; muscles contract thousands of times on every run, which creates a tightness that sometimes manifests itself later in pulls and niggles.  Spending fifteen minutes stretching after a run - when the muscles have thoroughly warmed up - can be a welcome addition for staying injury free and maintaining a good range of movement.


A good running style does not always guarantee a great running performance.  But you can guarantee that a poor running style can certainly be detrimental.  Both over- and under-striding waste energy, the biomechanics of a good running style not only show a good running action but also demonstrate an economical style.  When you consider that on average an athlete running ten miles will have over five thousand landings per foot, carry this forward over the weeks and months and it is easy to see that any biomechanical problem - no matter how small - can over time create problems.  Again try to find the time to have your gait checked by a coach and action taken.  Small discrepancies in leg length, or over-pronating can easily be corrected with inserts.

There are course other facets to a training regime, like mental preparation, body conditioning, diet and the use of rest within the training programme.  All these elements are invaluable in giving a more holistic approach to your training programme.

So why not pause for a moment in your training and consider if you are doing all you can in becoming a better runner without the facility of hills on your doorstep.

Enjoy your training.

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