how to train for elevation running

How to train for elevation running without hills

You live in Delhi and now you want to run a race like Garhwal Runs, La Ultra or Comrades, where the race route has a significant amount of elevation or for that matter, even shorter ultra races in Delhi NCR such as Bhati Lakes Ultra or Serco Trail-a-Thon where the overall elevation gains during the race route are several times more than your regular training runs on Delhi roads or similar “flat lands”. But there’s a way to train for elevation running on plains of Delhi as well.

Congratulations, you have chosen an endeavour which is as complex as finding a fat free yet delicious aloo paratha.

If you do all your long runs on Delhi NCR roads or any other city’s roads which have negligible elevation, you will suffer horribly during these races if you try to maintain your regular flat land pace. Why? Because, your legs are simply not used to the elevation.

I have been there and done that. I ran all of the above races with negligible elevation training. Most of my training was limited to Sanjay Van which isn’t even close to the real race conditions. It becomes quite unpleasant to tackle a challenge when you don’t even know how the challenge feels.

If you see the images above then, it is apparent how I went from a 6:00 min/km pace at Bhati 50k Ultra to more than 8:00 min/km pace at Garhwal Runs 76k Ultra, when the elevation increased ten times. I basically walked the second part of Garhwal Runs because my legs had packed their bags and bid farewell by the time I had reached the 50th km mark.

Now, to suffer less and perform decently during such races, you have two options: First Option is to keep training on flat land and on race day, simply reduce your overall pace to a more realistic ‘elevation adjusted race pace’, which basically means either running slow overall or walking on the inclines and running on the down hills to save energy. Second Option is to train for the elevation as much as possible and try to perform at the race, rather than just hobbling to the finish line.

If your plan is to follow the First Option, then read no further. On race day, just run slower overall or walk the inclines and run the down hills and you’ll be in a respectable condition when you finish and you will suffer less during the race.

If your plan is to follow the Second Option, then there are a few methods to train for the elevation. These methods are as follows:
1. Move to the mountains Quit your job, divorce your wife/husband, disown the kids, say goodbye to the parents and leave Delhi or the similar flat land where you reside and move to the mountains in order to

  • (i) train for the race;
  • (ii) learn the art of shunning grown up responsibilities; and
  • (iii) become a hill running machine. You will do well in the races but don’t look at me for advice on what to do with yourself when the race is over and you miss the ex-family. You got a PB and you maybe even podium-ed! That is the most important thing in life, according to many “bro scientists”. Obviously, this is the most impractical option but the most result oriented.


2. Use Delhi’s lumps and humps Go to places like Sanjay Van, Kamla Nehru Ridge, Aruna Asaf Ali Road, your building staircase etc., where the elevation is more than your regular running route. You obviously won’t get the training benefits of proper hill running but at least your legs will be ready for about 20% of the race day elevation brutality. This is not a foolproof method since the elevation in all these places where you will train is momentary and then there is a downhill, whereas on race day the elevation will be substantially continuous and plentiful.
3. Create a mountain out of a molehill (treadmill)- Go to the gym, set the treadmill to the required incline and train on it. Voila! You are now officially a demigod because you have created a hill; you can bask in the glory and then be ready for the pain of the workout. To use treadmills properly for race training, do the maths and figure out the elevation gain and the distance numbers that are required for a particular race.

Eg: If your race has a 300 metre elevation gain, then you could get the required elevation gain training during a 5k run on the treadmill by setting the treadmill to 6% incline. It sounds easy but it isn’t since it will actually mimic running up a continuous hill. It is an effective method to train for elevation, provided that you can afford a treadmill at home or a swanky gym which allows you to spend an unnatural amount of time on the treadmill. I go to a Haryanvi owned and operated gym and when I asked the owner if I could spend some quality time on the treadmill (beyond the gym’s 20 minute policy), he asked me to pay thrice the monthly fee for this “add-on service”. I thanked him for his generous offer but mentally flipped him the bird and went home.

So mates, this is how you train for elevation running on Plains.

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