Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Loon Mountain Race Training (Part 1): Setting Up A Plan

Upper Walking Boss.
Credit:  Joe Viger Photography.
"Step by step and the thing is done."  ~Charles Atlas

There are few things in running more rewarding than standing atop a mountain and looking down at where you've come.  And there are very few mountain races with views like the Loon Mountain Race.  But it takes work to get there.  This five part series will cover the important elements of preparing for the event.  

Setting Up A Plan
Assuming a basic level of fitness and good health, anyone can prepare to finish the Loon Mountain Race (LMR) with a solid plan.  That plan is generally organized in two distinct training cycles; Winter and LMR-Specific.  As you set up your plan start by counting back 16 weeks from the event date.  That date is the start of your LMR-Specific training cycle.  Take the week before that as a "Transition Week".  A "Transition Week" is a brief period between larger training cycles and is intended to provide you with an opportunity to mentally and physically refresh.  Continue to exercise during this week, but take an extra rest day if you need it.  From the "Transition Week" through the start of the year will be considered your Winter Training Cycle.  Here are the important training activities during this time.

Winter Training Cycle 
The Loon Mountain Race is technically categorized as an uphill race.  While there are a handful of brief downhill sections, it is unquestionably uphill.  The most important performance determinant for this type of race is muscle strength endurance and it is potentially developed three ways; in the gym, by running hills, and by specific complimentary training activities.  Let's cover all of them as they are important aspects of the Winter Training Cycle.  

In The Gym
Strength training should be an integral year-round part of any runner's plan.  And the Winter Training Cycle is the perfect opportunity to spend a little more time developing the muscle strength endurance that will make the Loon Mountain Race just a little easier (not easy...easier).  Three days a week of total body strength training is optimal during this cycle.  Ideally these training units are not performed on consecutive days.  Want to be a better hill climber?  Add this lower body routine to your strength training plan;

Bulletproof Leg Circuit®
Leg Press (20 reps)
Side Touch Lunge (10 reps/side)
Leg Press (15 reps)
Turn Lunge (10 reps/side)
Leg Press (12 reps)
Drop Lunge (10 reps/side)
Leg Press (6 reps)
Reverse Lunge to Single-Leg Stand (10 reps/side)
Leg Press (12 reps)
Walking Lunge to Russian Twist (10 reps/side)
Leg Press (15 reps)
Ice Skaters (10 reps/side)
Leg Press (20 reps)
Split Squat (10 reps/side)

NOTES:  There should be very minimal rest between exercises.  The objective is to keep your heart rate elevated the entire time.  Secondly, start with a light weight for the first set of 20 reps of leg press.  Then increase the weight as you decrease the repetitions.  The heaviest weight you will use will be for the set of six repetitions.  From there decrease the weight back down as the sets increase in number of repetitions.  This is a pyramid inspired circuit.  It's very likely your legs will feel like Jello on the first day but with a consistent dedication to this routine you will notice your legs become stronger and hills will be a little easier to run.

Running Hills
The second way to prepare for the Loon Mountain Race during the Winter Training Cycle is to add a hill workout one day a week.  When the weather and conditions are cooperative these workouts are best performed outdoors.  Two types of outdoor "hill workouts" for runners are; vertical compression and ascent attacks.

Vertical Compression
The objective of this workout is to gain the maximum amount of elevation within a 30-60 minute run without specifically repeating hills.

Ascent Attacks
The objective of this workout is to run all the hills within a 30-60 minute run as hard as possible using the flats and downhills to "actively recover".  

However, depending on where you live the weather and conditions might not be conducive to running outside.  If you must do your hill workout indoors on a treadmill, try this Loon Mountain Race inspired treadmill workout;

Treadmill Hillclimb Workout (Punchy®)
1 mile at 3% grade (warm-up)
1 mile at 5% grade
1/4 mile at 10% grade
1/2 mile at 5% grade
1/4 mile at 10% grade
1/2 mile at 5% grade
1/2 mile at 3% grade (cool-down)

NOTES:  Choose the speed that allows you to continue to run.  Eventually walk if you must.  

Complimentary Training Activities
The final way to improve muscle strength endurance is with complimentary training activities that develop the energy systems necessary for hill climbing.  Two excellent examples are snowshoeing and uphill cycling.  

This complimentary training activity clearly only applies to certain areas of the country.  But if you live in a colder climate and have access to snowshoes, this is a great activity to add to your schedule once a week or every other week.

Uphill Cycling
All runners benefit from adding non-running activities to their programs.  There is perhaps no better complimentary training activity for improving uphill running than uphill cycling.  If you must ride indoors, spend time pedaling with a higher resistance and slower cadence to simulate running uphill.

In Part 2 of this series I'll cover the details of the Loon Mountain Race course including some valuable insights from one of the top mountain runners in US history.  


  1. Thanks! I’ll gladly take your advice as my lack of training last year made for a rough experience. Hoping for better results this year and I hope I can stick to a 16 week training plan.

  2. You are most welcome. I'll be writing four more articles before race day. And keep this in mind...the most powerful training variable is consistency.

  3. Just pure brilliance from you here. I have never expected something less than this from you and you have not disappointed me at all. I suppose you will keep the quality work going on. Virtual Coach 2019