Training for Big Mountains on Small Hills

Living in a geographically isolated and generally flat country such as Australia and wanting to be able to compete against the best mountain runners in the world on their home turf in their majestic alpine region can be seen as an obstacle for not trying and not performing at a high standard or it can be seen as a opportunity that we need to embrace. It’s a mental mind game, a glass half full mentality that we need to adopt…along with jetlag. But how?

Skyrunning is a new sport to come ‘down under’ and it is rapidly developing and growing. It’s a great spectator sport and a great runner’s playground. Courses are getting steeper, more technical and pushing individuals further, but the question remains, how can a mere ‘flat lander’ replicate the high ridgelines and never ending ascents that greet a Skyrunner as the gun goes off and they depart the start line into the mountains?

glasshouse mountains

I am lucky to be coached by the World’s best female Skyrunner, Emelie Forsberg. I remember saying that I lived in the flat area of Melbourne (Doncaster) and that I had moved house to a much hillier area (Eltham). Emelie told me to send her a map of google earth of where I live now, which I did. She replied with ‘oh it is flat’ and I said no! this is the hilly area…”. Since then, we have created a way to save me from driving 4 hours to the Australian alpine region in Bright every day, but using what is near and to build strength, which I found I lacked during my racing season earlier in the year.

Emelie has given me a new way to train. My training is based off hours and meters. How many Kilometers, meters, centimeters are irrelevant. It’s not about 100km weeks but reaching 14hours of solid training, sometimes faster and further on the flat but mostly in the hills covering less distance in more time. When Emelie and I began working together she assured me that being fast in the mountains involved getting fast on the flat first and taking that speed up the gradients later in the training…this was a hard concept for me to grasp and something that took a bit of time to agree with. Now it’s a perfect relationship with her understanding the inability to climb for 3000m, to undertake altitude training and to do 15minute downhill reps… I think we have both learned a thing or two!

I once took the train to the 1000 steps in the Dandenongs asked by Emelie to cover 3000m elevation gain. I spent 6.5 hours going up and down 13 times and then took the train home. This is not ideal, nor sustainable, enjoyable or actually very specific as I was getting to go down 13 times in between each repeat and for anyone who has run in the Alps it’s the continuous steep ascents that tear the Aussies from the goats.

1000 steps
1000 steps

Intensity and or quality are the key words and things I have adopted into my training. Running repeats (intervals) on the small nipples of nature I have nearby, have allowed me to gain this strength in my legs and increase my heart rate as I climb. I can notice the changes on the longer climbs in the bigger mountains. Using my Suunto watch to measure heart rate at rest and during intervals has helped me appreciate the science of running a little more. A strong core is really important, the ability to run with a strong upright posture makes me feel taller and faster. I’m not a gym junkie but I play around with body weight exercises –push ups, lunges and box jumps are my favorites. Rest is a gimme for me, that and eating, but I eat clean and drink copious amounts of water

Recently athletes from Australia have proven that it’s not impossible to compete at the highest level; Blake Hose, Ben Duffus, Caine Warburton, Scotty Hawker have gone and taken the glass half full approach and shown us that excuse that there is work we can do and the results can directly lead to us dominating on the other side of the world and improve our home turf performances. This way when the internationals come over here we can introduce them to our snakes and drop bears.

Try these sessions to begin your way to dominance in the mountains:

Find an incline that goes for >30seconds. 15minute Warm up, run 500m hard effort to the base of the incline, and then up the intensity as you run the hill focusing on being upright, lifting the knee, recovery on the way down the hill and then hit the hill 10 more time. 15 minute CD

Get a stong core through doing this 10minute workout 3 times a week. Its only short and can be extended and changed but it’s a little something that makes a big difference:

  • 1min plank
  • 30 sec left leg raised plank, 30sec right leg raised plank
  • 30 seconds left side plank, 30 seconds right side plank
  • 1 minute crunches
  • 1 minute heel taps
  • 1 minute bridge
  • 1minute roll ups
  • 1minute lying down leg extensions alternating legs
  • 1 minute double leg extensions
  • and finally 1 minute V sit


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Lucy Bartholomew
Lucy Bartholomew is one of Australia's most recognised female ultra and trail runners. She's a member of Team SALOMON, SUUNTO, CLIF bar and STRAVA

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