The question of whether or not to run the climbs of a trail race has several different factors involved. Factors such as distance of the trail race course, personal strengths and pre-race training. Some racers excel at climbing while others make up for their lack of climbing ability with their ability to descend efficiently. On the descent, racers have one distinct advantage - gravity. Once a runner has become comfortable and efficient with center of gravity and foot placement, they can allow themselves to flow down the mountain with the assistance of gravity.
Ascending is a different story. For starters, you are constantly going against gravity. Then other issues such as form break down (recruitment of smaller muscles), crossing the lactate threshold and, if you don’t have easy access to taller mountains, being able to mimic prolonged climbs on certain race courses. While many trail runners are constantly on the verge of overtraining injuries from the many pounding miles, what can be done to manage all the previously stated variables to be ready come race day?
One of the tools we utilize to assist trail runners and other athletes is the Cybex Arc Trainer. All the factors of climbing can be addressed using the Arc Trainer as part of the training protocol in training for a race with constantly varied terrain of ascent and descent. With the Arc Trainer's settings for incline and hand bar placement you can mimic the line of the body for optimal recruitment of the larger posterior chain muscles. You will see several racers at all races that on the ascents are bent forward at the waist not utilizing an optimal “drive” line. If you are able to keep your upper body and lower body in line with no waist flexion, you become more efficient.
With the Arc Trainer's advanced settings (Constant Power and Power Train) your options for lactate threshold or VO2 Max work are only limited by your imagination. We use the advanced setting to do interval training to target lactate threshold and VO2 Max improvements. Then we can easily adjust the settings if we want to target the adaptation to prolonged and constant effort climbs.
The Arc can be a great tool in the tool box for all athletes, even athletes whose field of competition is in the mountains. As with all training tools, it needs to be used as such. While the benefits of high performance/low impact training are great, trail runners must still spend training days on the trails to adapt to the pounding forces and connective tissue. If used properly as part of a well-designed and periodized, program racers and other athletes will see and feel the benefits of the Arc Trainer.
Be safe and have great workout!
Chip Gosewisch, CSCS, CPT
Chip is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Personal Trainer. He was a four year starter on the baseball team and graduate at Arizona State University. Following ASU, Chip was drafted and played two seasons in the Anaheim Angels minor league system. Chip now manages the NFL and MLB camps, while also developing sport-specific training programs for various other athletes. He has also taken on developing strength and conditioning programs for many Phoenix Fire Fighters.
Chip is an avid Ultra Trail Marathon runner and has completed numerous 100mile and 50mile ultra marathons.