Training Tips – Hill Training in the Flatlands

Posted by on Feb 23, 2018 | No Comments

Last month we had a question from Hanoi’s Sole Sisters run group about how to train for the hills when living in a flat city like Hanoi. Here our resident coach, Simon Grimstrup, gives his top tips.

Photo: Simon running a downhill which is part of the VJM course

The first and most important thing is to relax and look forward to race day with joy, (and only a little fear)! It is really great to have something to look forward to – especially if it is an adventure in the great outdoors! However, it is a good idea to keep your expectations low. You might be fast on the flat paved road, but expect much slower pace in the mountainous terrain.

Look at the results for last year’s races and Google the winners – this will give you an idea of the slower pace you will be running at during the race. To come prepared you should switch at least one of your weekly flat runs to hill-specific training.

Tip 1.       Ask yourself – is my area really flat?

If you can find a hill with just 10 meters of elevation it is much better than nothing –

make it fun going up and down the hill!  Go fast, go slow, go sideways, go backwards or wear a heavy backpack going up and down. Using a natural environment improves your coordination a lot, and will make you stronger, fitter and mentally prepared. (In Hanoi there is a small hill in the Botanical Gardens. In HCMC how about Phu My Bridge? In Danang no problem, hit Son Tra like Quang! – ed)

Tip 2.      If you have a gym nearby and live in the city it can be a really good option!

Alternate between the stepper and the treadmill using the gradient function. Keep the session more interesting my increasing the gradient 1 percentage point per minute, then reducing it once you’ve hit the maximum gradient you can sustain.

Remember to measure your progress – so you can see your getting better. You’ll be able to maintain a higher speed as the weeks go by and hopefully you’ll also be able to push to higher gradients on the treadmill.

Photo: Machines at California Fitness & Yoga which can help you prepare for the hills

The only problem with the treadmill or stepper is that it will only take you uphill – and the hardest part for many is actually going downhill! So, use some supplementary strength exercises to strengthen your calves and thighs. Many trainers at California Fitness centres are well versed in VJM and VMM having participated themselves, so they can give you the lowdown.

Tip 3.      Use stairs!

These are great because you go up and down! And as I mentioned – it is often the downhills that kill your thighs in the end. The more stairs the better – put some music in your ears and just go for it. You can put a 5-15 kg on the back (if you are used to it), and just go slow up and down.

Tip 4.    Head for the hills

If a small journey can take you to some hills, then use it as a weekend getaway. I have been both mountainbiking and trail running in Soc Son and it is a great and beautiful place to train for VMM, VJM or another hilly mountain adventure.

If you have family then take them. They might not be trailrunners (yet) – but just hiking in the hills is a great way to spend time with family. And if you go hiking, again put on a backpack and it will be very good training. Remember that you will be walking a lot uphill during a mountain marathon – even the best runners walk uphill! (The winner of the men’s VMM 2017 21km walked every uphill section! – ed)

And when the rest of the family are enjoying the picnic – you might do some hill repeats nearby or even better, turn the running into a play with the kids!

Remember: No Fun – No Run!

If you have any specific topics you would like Simon to cover in the next Trail Running News, please get in touch with us via or via the VMM or VJM Facebook pages.

You can follow Simon on Instagram at simon.grimstrup and on Facebook at Danishmountainrunner