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Vert by any means necessary

For those who already don’t know, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is one of the most prestigious trail running events in the world, drawing elite runners and absolute nutters like myself) to the rugged, scenic trails of the Alps
In the lead-up, I will produce a series of blog posts that will outline my blueprint for getting myself to the start line in the best condition that I can to at least get around that big 170km loop. In the first of these blogs, I will deal with the challenge of training for a mountain race when I live in a flat city.
Training for UTMB is no small feat, with the race having over 10,000 meters of elevation gain spread across 171 kilometres. Living in Brighton on the South Coast of the UK means I only have small lumps and bumps of the South Downs. As the title suggests, it will be by any means necessary to succeed in Chamonix in August!

This post will explore how to effectively use these resources to replicate the vert (vertical gain) and terrain I will face to prepare for the physical and mental demands of ultra-distance mountain running. For those of us who can’t always train on actual mountains, tools like the NoblePro Treadmill and local hilly terrain like Devil’s Dyke and Tank Tracks on the South Downs will be invaluable.

UTMB has a distance of approximately 171 kilometres (106 mi), and a total elevation gain of around 10,040 metres (32,940 ft).

Understanding UTMB requirements

Before diving into the specifics of treadmill and local terrain training, it’s crucial to understand the demands of UTMB. This race is not just about distance; it’s about managing extreme elevation changes, technical descents, and long periods of running in challenging conditions. A successful training block will contain these elements:

Vertical Gain: UTMB features significant climbs and descents. Finding places which include substantial vertical gain to mimic these conditions.
Endurance: Long runs with vert that build endurance and stamina are essential.
Technical Skills: Handling rocky, uneven terrain with agility and confidence.
Mental Fortitude: Preparing for the mental challenges you will face in the race.

Treadmill training: the NoblePro advantage

The NoblePro Treadmill is a fantastic training tool, I can run happily for long periods of time in comfort compared to other machines I have run on. It has the usual adjustable inclines (up to 12% on a folding machine) and advanced programming options through the Kinni App. Kinni allows runners to replicate the long steep ascents that they will encounter during UTMB.

Here’s how to make the most of it:

  1. Incline Training: Set the treadmill to high inclines to simulate the climbs. The NoblePro Treadmill can reach inclines of up to 12%, perfect for replicating the long, steep sections of the UTMB course.
  2. Interval Workouts: Use the treadmill for interval training, alternating between high inclines and flat sections to build strength and endurance.
  3. Technical Simulations: Although treadmills can’t replicate rocky terrain, you can use agility drills and varied speed settings to simulate the changing conditions of trail running.

The NoblePro Treadmill will be pivotal to my training regime and enable me to sneak in extra vert into my training, helping me build the strength and endurance needed for the climbs of UTMB.

Tread-hill doubles

This is a training method I stole from an article by David Roche. Uphill treadmill runs/hikes (aka tread-hills) can be a bonus training element to improve speed and endurance. These sessions involve 20 to 30 minutes on the treadmill, at its steepest grade, in the evening after a morning run during the week. The goal is to help build specific muscular and biomechanical adaptations for long climbs, making them particularly effective for UTMB preparation.

Sample tread-hill workout

Warm-up: 10 minutes at 1% incline, easy pace.
Main Set: 20-30 minutes at 15% incline, starting at a hike (4kph to 6kph) and progressing to a run if advanced (up to 7kph).
Cool-down: 10 minutes at 1% incline, easy pace.

Outdoor training: Devils Dyke 

Devil’s Dyke, located in the South Downs near Brighton and is the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain. It offers an excellent training ground with 1k of 100m of vertical gain (10% gradient). While it may not have the altitude of the Alps, it provides substantial elevation gain for hill repeats, and the surrounding trails offer a varied terrain to help prepare my quads, calves and ankles. I might go a bit mad running around here so much in the summer but needs must. I’ll be using the Dyke and other trails on the downs to the best effect I can.
Hill Repeats: Using the steep sections of Devil’s Dyke for hill repeats. This will build the leg strength and cardiovascular endurance needed for the long climbs of UTMB.
Long Loops: Incorporate long looping runs around the different trails and elevation profiles. This will help build the stamina required for the ultra-distance.
Technical Practice: The trails at Devil’s Dyke offer rocky and uneven sections. Practising on these trails will enhance technical running skills essential for navigating the UTMB course.

Sample Devil’s Dyke workout:

Warm-up: 20 minutes easy running on flat terrain.
Main Set: 6 x 5-minute hill repeats, running hard uphill and recovering on the downhill.
Cool-down: 15 minutes easy running on flat terrain.

Combining indoor with outdoor workouts

How can you utilise both indoor and outdoor training to maximise your preparation for a mountain race? Here’s how I will be balancing the two:

Weekly Schedule: Plan your week to include both treadmill and outdoor sessions. For example, you might use the NoblePro Treadmill for weekday workouts and head to Devil’s Dyke on weekends.
Recovery and Adaptation: Ensure you allow enough time between intense sessions. Combining high-incline treadmill workouts and challenging outdoor runs can be taxing, so listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
Specificity and Variety: While specificity is key (training for the specific demands of UTMB), variety helps prevent overuse injuries and keeps training interesting. Mix up your workouts to include different types of runs and terrains.
Preparing for UTMB is going to be hard when you do not have mountains on your doorstep, but if I can approach this challenge with an open mind and use what I have with strategic use of resources like the NoblePro Treadmill and local trails that you have like Devil’s Dyke.

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