I live in an area with small hills. How do I make the most of these hills when training for a trail race with much larger hills?

One of my favorite races is a 15-mile trail race with 3000+ ft (900+ m) total elevation climb. There are three big uphill segments, 1–3mi (1–5km) long, 500–800 ft (130–230m) climb with grades of 7–10+%.

I'd like to improve my hill training in preparation for this year's race. The best two options I have in my area are:

  1. Multiple hills with comparable or steeper grade, but much shorter: maybe 200 ft climb max. I can repeat these hills in quick succession. This trail is just a few minutes from my home and I can visit it several times a week
  2. One large hill, 500 ft, but it is much steeper (15% grade) and more technical, it's a good challenge uphill but seems difficult to run back down it in a safe matter. I spend a lot of time walking on this hill. I can only make it to this trail occasionally

Are repeated climbs on a small hill comparable to a single climb up a larger hill, in terms of training for miles-long climbs in the race?

2 Answers 2


There are a lot of top endurance athletes facing similar problems, whether it's local resources or simply time to train.

Increasingly they're maintain speed through interval work, not longer sessions. Would training on the course or at elevation help you? Certainly... but you can still be extremely competitive with your current scenario.

Keith Kelly is an example of this - amazing runner-turned-cyclist. He maintains a full time job so doesn't have time to do 6+ hours/day on the bike the way many other athletes do. How does he do it? Short, intense workouts.

One interval session, maybe on a Tuesday, and it’s like running intervals, it’s 8 x 3 minutes or it’s 4 x 5 minutes and I do them pretty much max effort with short enough recovery in between. Then I do a tempo ride, where I do 30 minutes tempo or 40 minutes tempo like we would running. And then I do a long ride, and then the other days are easy days. I’ve even done some double days, so I’ll get up in the morning do 45 minutes on the trainer, then do 45 minutes on the trainer at night. This is really short for biking but it’s working for me.

ref: http://running.competitor.com/2012/04/interviews/the-big-engine-that-could-exclusive-interview-with-keith-kelly_50439

Point being, you can certainly use a smaller hill for training - just try running it harder and/or adding a weighted vest. I'd also mix in some strength training (e.g. squats) and a longer run on weekends. That way you're adding both endurance and power into your training.

Good luck!


Are repeated climbs on a small hill comparable to a single climb up a larger hill, in terms of training for miles-long climbs in the race?

No, not really, but so what?

If you can visit the multiple hills several times a week then I would do that a lot. I would then add the one large hill as part of your long run(s) on the weekend.

Hills are great strength training for runners so doing lots, and lots of different ones, is great.

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