Running Trends: Is Elevation the New Mileage?

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Running Trends: Is Elevation the New Mileage?

If you’re getting tired of merely counting your weekly mileage, especially with no races on the horizon, consider tackling a new kind of training metric: meters climbed (or feet if you want a higher number). In the past few months, thousands of cyclists have turned to ‘Everesting’ — climbing 8,848 vertical meters over the course of a ride — as a new challenge. And runners have officially gotten in on the Everest-elevation fun as well.

Setting an elevation goal might be the best way to keep you motivated, bust through a training plateau, and hit new milestones after you’ve maxed out distance. Here’s why it might be a great challenge to tackle this summer:

1

YOU CAN RUN HARDER IN LESS TIME

The number 1 reason many people are turning to elevation versus mileage is simple: With adding more mileage, at some point, you’re going to be limited by your available hours. If you’ve run into the issue of no time to keep adding more mileage to your week, switching to counting vertical meters allows you to start measuring in a whole new way, adding difficulty without adding time.

2

YOU’LL NATURALLY WORK UNDER-UTILIZED MUSCLES

Because running uphill is so demanding, it’s impossible to have any muscles remain ‘lazy.’ This particularly applies to the glutes. Often, when we run on flat surfaces, we rely on our quads and hamstrings to handle most of the workload, but when you take a step up on a steep hill, your butt has no choice but to get involved and start working.

3

YOU’LL AUTOMATICALLY GET INTERVALS IN

Running uphill pushes you to run hard. (Seriously, have you ever run or power-hiked a steep hill while keeping your heart rate in the recovery zone?) With downhills between hill repetitions as a chance to rest and recover, you’ll naturally end up doing an interval workout without having to think too hard.

4

YOU’LL GET STRONGER FOR THE FLATS

Because running uphill is essentially resistance training (gravity and the hill’s incline serving as your resistance), you can expect to see your top-end performance improve the more you climb. A small 2017 study looked at runners engaging in a 12-week program of uphill training, and it turns out, going up means getting fast. VO2 max and general endurance improved in the test group, and even resting heart rate dropped.

5

YOU CAN HAVE WALK BREAKS

Good news: When you have to stop to walk uphill, it’s no longer called walking, it’s called power-hiking, and it’s a very legitimate way to move quickly uphill. Often, power hiking (really utilizing glute muscles and even occasionally giving your hamstrings a boost by pressing into your thigh with your hand to get up a particularly steep step) is just as effective as continuing to run your way slowly up an incline. That’s part of what makes running uphill feel tolerable — you’ll never need to feel guilty about slowing your pace.

6

YOU CAN DO IT ANYWHERE

You don’t need to live in the mountains to tackle a challenge as intense as Everesting if you’re willing to do a lot of hill repetitions — and it adds up faster than you think. Ideally, you’ll switch it up, too: Aim for some shorter, steeper efforts if possible, but also sneak in some longer sustained climbs. Use whatever is around you: One of the fastest Everest attempts was done on a climb that was less than a kilometer long!

7

BRING YOUR FRIENDS ALONG FOR THE RIDE

If you’ve been using this pause from racing to do things like distance challenges with friends, consider a weekend, week or month-long elevation challenge among your running buddies. Apps like MapMyRun record elevation (just go to Show All Data to get your elevation profile for your run), so use that to add up how many feet or meters you’ve gained over whatever timespan you decide. Or, you can get specific if you want to set a cap on how much you’ll need to climb: Set an elevation goal like climbing the height of Mount Kilimanjaro. Loser owes the winner a new pair of hiking poles!

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.

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