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Training for mountain running - Stian Dahl Sommerseth
Active Root Ambassador Stian is focusing on the mountains this year, with tough races such as Sierre Zinal and the European Mountain Running Championships just a couple of his targets. Below Stian explains some of the sessions he does to get him ready for tacking the steep climbs involved in mountain running.
There might be plenty of mountains in and around Tromso, but when winter lasts from November to May, it’s not easy to prepare for a summer of mountain running. I spend most of my time on the treadmill in the winter and only had my first workout on trails on April 27th, which was a ridiculous 400m climb at an average grade of 55%. Still, with the ambitions I have set for myself this summer, I really have no other choice but to get out and go as soon as possible.
In June I’m competing in the Norwegian Mountain Running Cup with hopes of being selected for the European Mountain Running Championships in early July. After that, I’m running the Youth SkyRunning World Championships and Sierre-Zinal in early August. Although these races vary in distance, elevation gain and technicality, they all require speed, strength and endurance.
When moving over to the specifics, I’ll try to explain how I’m training week to week and why I’m doing it this particular way. I’ll highlight three workouts I run that are really specific to mountain running, in addition to the long run.
Most of my workouts were pretty flat though all the way up to mid March. Since then, I’ve tried to do at least one of three workouts specific workouts for mountain running once a week. These workouts are the uphill fartlek, uphill intervals and uphill tempo. I also run at least one long run each week and sometimes sprinkle in fast running on the roads, even in the form of races up to 10km.
In my training log, March 11 has “Day 1” in large text written under it. That was a Monday exactly 13 weeks ago as of June 2th. Since “Day” 1 I’ve run for 109 hours and 11 minutes, averaging 9 hours and 5 minutes per week, the median week being 9 hours and 20 minutes. In mileage, this is about 100-120km a week.
In addition to running, I’ve had 14 Strength & Conditioning sessions, most of them earlier in the training block. I also did one or two cycling or ski mountaineering sessions per week earlier in the block to build more strength and power. It’s endurance training as well, but I like my endurance training to be running and adjust the intensity I’m going at during these cross-training sessions accordingly.
Long run: As I’ve said, I do at least one long run a week. Most of these are at a moderate intensity for 2 hours. Running at a moderate intensity for any distance builds endurance in the same way running at an easy running does, but more efficiently since it’s at a higher effort level. The risk is that you are more prone for injury. Running faster increases the impact and the higher effort puts more stress on your body than going at an easy effort.
For me, a moderate effort is right around 4 minutes per kilometer. Sometimes I go faster than this, other workouts I can struggle with this pace. This is why I would encourage you to find what effort is the right for you on the day you’re running.
Duration wise, two hours is what works wonders for me. Going much longer would probably increase the chances of injury substantially, and requiring even more time to recover. Sierre-Zinal will probably take me closer to 3 hours though. I’ll probably extend the long run by half an hour and increase the amount of vertical gain. This Sunday, with it being 6 days until the first race of the mountain running cup, I only ran for 90 minutes.
Surface wise, I’d preferably run all of these runs on smooth trails or dirt roads at least to decrease the injury risk. The only exception would be for long runs very specific for a long road race like a half or full marathon.
Uphill Fartlek: Last week, I ran two of these specific mountain running workouts. On Tuesday, I did a fartlek session where I ran 3 minutes hard and 2 minutes easy to the top of a 650m peak. One of the benefits of this is that I run over varying terrain and few races are at the same gradient or same type of surface all the way. What separates the fartlek from the interval is that I continue the ascent during the “recovery”. Compared to a uphill tempo, I’m able to run harder uphill in a fartlek because I get a “recovery” phase.
The important thing to bear in mind during the “recovery” phase is that you’re still going up, so you’ll still be fatigued. It’s all about getting the effort during this phase right. If you go too fast, you’ll suffer when trying to run hard and the point of “changing gears” will be lost. Go to slow and it’ll become more of an interval session.
Uphill Intervals: On Friday I ran uphill intervals. The session was five times 5 minutes with 2 minutes of recovery. During the recovery phase, I descended at a very easy effort. I don’t get back down to where I started the repetition. That means I needed a big enough hill to not reach the top before the session was over. The benefit of this is that I’m moving over changing terrain, not the same incline over and over again. Another version of the session would be to run all the way back down to where I started the repetition. This would also have been a good workout. A longer recovery makes it easier to run at an even harder effort level.
Uphill Tempo: The third specific session I have done variations of is the uphill tempo. This is a workout that works well on the treadmill because you want the effort to be consistent and that’s easy to control on the effort where pace and gradient is all in your hands. I prefer to do them outside though, because I that’s where I compete. Also, you won’t be lifting up your feet as much on the treadmill and your feet won’t be “dragged” backwards by a moving belt outside.
That’s pretty much how I train for this “Summer of Mountains”. With these workouts, you can be creative with where you run and for how long. I like to run up hills that are as steep or steeper than the races I’m training for. The duration should probably be relative to how long your race is. For the Norwegian Mountain Running Cup, I have to use a bag that weighs 2kg, so I run these workouts with that on my back. I think it’ll definitely help on race day if you get it as specific as possible when doing these workouts.