Necessity of flat runs

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  • #39163

    Hi everybody,

    I’m curious about how much flat running is necessary for someone who only does skyraces and vertical races with a lot of vertical gain?
    I have ADS (my AeT is at 153 bpm/ 4:37min/km, AnT at 180 bpm/ 3:38min/km, according to lab test) and almost all of my training consists of running/hiking/skiing up and down mountains, most of the steeper uphills in power hike-mode to stay below my AeT. I have changed my training radically the last 4-5 months, from running as fast as possible uphill all the time to going slower for longer duration and doing more specific intervals.
    I’m managing a bit more than 7000 vertical meters (13-20 hours of training) per week on average without feeling overtrained or tired since most of it is very easy and slow.
    My goal is to improve my uphill speed as well as my endurance for longer distances in the mountains.
    However, I’m wondering if all this time spent power hiking and going slow is detrimental to my performance in some way and wether it would be more efficient to include some flat runs each week?

    Greetings from Switzerland


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    Anonymous on #39191

    Hi Ben,

    Great question, and your suspicion is correct: including some flatter running into your training each week will provide several advantages:

    – You’ll gain improved economy of movement (cadence, force production, and stride length) which will increase your “cruising” speed. This will translate into steeper running by providing a greater buffer between what pace you can confidently run and what you’re realistically doing in the steep terrain.

    – Flat running, and more specifically running on a smooth (paved or dirt) surface allows you to focus in on technique. Technical trail running is by nature inconsistent as you move over roots, rocks, and adjust speed constantly to deal with changing terrain; in contrast, running on a flat or slightly rolling smooth surface is consistent, providing the means to spend many minutes in a consistent form/technique and to iron out inefficiencies.

    – Recovery: even though it sounds like you’re handling the high volume of vertical training well, it is still a big load on the body. Using flat runs for recovery (such as a 30min easy run following strength workouts) helps offset the significant muscular load of steep trail running while still providing volume to your overall base.


    Kyle Brundage on #39226

    Hi Sam,

    Thank you for your in-depth answer and Ben for bringing up this question because I thought more vertical was always going to be better.

    Do we have an idea if the loss in vertical from doing more flat is going to outweigh those advantages? I have a feeling it will likely always depend on the individual and hours training. I average about 5500 meters a week (9-11hrs/aerobic weekly) but only use incline treadmills and stairclimbers. Perhaps in the base/aerobic building phase the specificity is not as important and closer to your event it is more important to get more vertical?


    Anonymous on #39275

    Good question, Kyle. The answer (like so many here!) is it depends… If your target event/objective is a steep, continuously vertical course like a VK or similar, then prioritizing the sustained vert once you’re more in the specific phase of training takes precedence over a balanced volume of flat running (though I still would recommend the flats for easy recovery runs). But, if you’re participating in an event wherein there are many miles of flat and downhill running, which include even many challenging sky races and trail ultras, then the benefits of the flat running as described above still hold.

    One way you can support your vertical emphasis without adding volume, and as a way to provide more room for more rolling terrain, is to do some of our localized M.E. workouts – a series of progressively-weighted jump-squats and box step-ups with timed recovery as a way to target the local muscles which propel you uphill, all the while avoiding a more “global” fatigue which can come from workouts done on uphill terrain. These workouts are great additions to the mountain runner’s diet.

    Ben on #39342

    Thanks a lot for the replies! I haved used slow flat runs mainly for recovery. If i try to go faster on flat terrain, my legs suffer a lot more compared to my typical mountain runs. I guess my myountain legs are not used to that speed and impact the road provides…That and the fact i dont enjoy them very much are the main reason why i’ve been neglecting them.

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