Saturday, 21 February 2015 08:11

Training – Hill Training

Hill Training
Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival

Jeff Cooper is an ultrarunner and running coach for all levels of athlete. Find out more about him at 2RunForever. This month he’s sharing his tips to incorporate hill training into your race plan. 
In this article, we will review the benefits and logistics of running hills, as well as some tips for how and when to add hills to your training plan. There are several different types of hill workouts that will be described below in some detail to help you with your training.


Benefits of Hill Running

There are multiple benefits of regular hill running. Hills are a wonderful way to add some resistance to your training. When you overcome resistance to your training, your leg muscles get stronger, mostly the quadriceps and calves and the intensity of your training increases, mostly improving your heart rate efficiency. Runners have used hills for decades as a way to increase endurance, strength and speed.


A Word of Caution

Be sure to start out with just a few repeats at a moderate effort for the first couple of sessions and build from there. Attempt hill sessions only after having completed several weeks of base aerobic running. Running uphill and downhill does work your muscles and connective tissue differently than running on flat terrain. The lower leg tissue and muscle such as Achilles tendons and calf muscles, take a lot of force on the uphills while the quads, hips, glutes and knees take most of the force on the downhills. If you aim for progress over a number of weeks, you’ll be less likely to overdo your effort and therefore avoid any injury.


Workout Types and Purposes

Hill Type Hill Length Uphill duration Hill Gradient Hill Purpose
Short 25 to 200 meters 15 to 60 seconds 4 to 15% grade develop strength
Medium 300 to 400 meters 1 to 2 minutes 3 to 12% grade improve recovery
Long 600 meters and up 3 minutes and up 3 to 10% grade increase threshold


Designing a Hill Workout

To create your hill workout when ready, you must decide on a few things: the number of repeats (hard up & downs) to complete, the effort level of the repeats, the grade of the hills you want to run, the recovery time between hills and the total length of the workout. I usually suggest 3 to 5 hill repeats of short or moderate length. Short blasts of 10-30 seconds will help you reach your maximum aerobic and anaerobic energy systems i.e. maximum heart rate (VO2MAX). The recovery duration back down the hills should be sufficient to let your heart rate and breathing return to their normal starting level for the next hill.

Do one session per week for 6 to 8 weeks. Add one or two repeats per week and look for hills that are slightly steeper and longer. Incorporate an easy, short run or cross training workout into your plan the day before and after your hill workout to allow you to be fresh for the hard hill work and to recover following the added stress on your legs and cardiovascular system. After several weeks of hill training, you should notice an improvement in all these areas.
Running Form on Hills

When running uphill, you should try to run with the same stride frequency (cadence) as on flat ground, but your stride length will be shorter and the cadence will increase. The amount of stride shortening will correspond to the increasing hill gradient. Try to “run tall” uphill by keeping your hips forward and looking ahead up the hill and not at your feet. This will help you to keep your breathing smooth and avoid premature fatigue. Aim for a strong knee lift and forceful arm pump as you run uphill. Make sure that your arms do not sway side to side across your body. On the downhills, the upper body should be very relaxed so that your shoulders and arms do not tighten up and they can help to keep you balanced. Try to run with form in which you are not braking with your quads.

Slapping is Bad: – “When running downhill, try not to let your feet slap on the ground with each foot plant. Instead, step lightly and don’t ‘reach out’ with your feet. Slapping can also be a sign of weak muscles in the shin area, in which case you need to strengthen them.” -Jeff Galloway


Hills & Stairs

Once you have completed your hill training sessions …and survived … the next step that I like to introduce into the training program are hills & stairs. While the hills are similar, the addition/ combination of stairs to the workout add a whole new dimension to your fitness levels. The mechanics in doing stairs change as the leg muscles are used a bit differently. Having to lift your legs more going up the stairs, your hip flexors, glutes, calves and quads get taken to a new level. The leg strength and cardiovascular endurance that you can develop doing stairs adds to what you had previously accomplished on just the hills alone.

My favorite workout is a 5 mile out and back, a 10 mile run that we do through a public park system. There are 6 hills that lead out of the park and 2 sets of stairs along the way. So doing this out and again back means doing12 hills, 4 sets of stairs and our “easy”10 mile run becomes a 17 mile fitness test!!


Get stronger and then go longer! Love it!!!


Pacing and Effort

The pace a runner can maintain on an uphill at a constant effort (measured by heart rate) will decrease as the gradient of the hill increases. Based on your training efficiency, you will know the proper pace that you should run a hill. The extra energy used by maintaining too fast a pace is not worth the effort and in most cases the runner will not sufficiently recover. Be very aware of signs of injuries such as illotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis, which can all be brought on by excessive hill training, incorrect posture and poor form. Completing regular hill training will help you improve on both uphills and downhills, employing great power on hilly terrain.


Strength Training and Hill Running:
Running hills builds strength and this will improve your overall running form and endurance as a runner. After you have established a base, running hills to build strength is the step leading up to the next one … Speed Training i.e. getting faster! Hills are actually speed-work in disguise!!


Be sure to have fun on the hills, and enjoy the view at the top! It is one of the nice rewards of running hills!

Saturday, 21 February 2015 08:11

On the Trail – Q&A with Duncan Callahan

On the Trail
Q&A with Duncan Callahan
Duncan Callahan on the trails

Duncan Callahan is one of our favorite faces to see at a race. Besides being a pleasure to be around he’s an extremely talented ultrarunner, he took the first place spot in two of our races in 2014, and an inspiring coach. Currently Duncan is an Elite Team Ambassador and a member of the Altra Endurance Team. He’s also working on putting together an ultrarunning training camp in Crested Butte this July. It will highlight the stunning trails in the area and give runners a chance to train at altitude. He took a minute to talk to us about his coaching philosophy, greatest adventures, and what he likes to eat at the finish line.
How did you get into helping other runners achieve their goals?

It really stems from a passion and motivation to see others succeed. Whenever I fall into the trap of caring only about my success, things don’t go as smoothly and I become way too self-absorbed. But helping others – either through full-on coaching or just small bits of encouragement – takes the focus off of me and somehow allows for even more progress in my own pursuits.


What does coaching mean to you?

Coming alongside someone and pointing out the pit-falls ahead and/or showing the huge benefits of certain training methods or ways of thinking. Or, it can also mean paving the way for others to worry only about the workout and not to stress about logistics.
How can training camps improve a runner’s performance?

More than anything, I feel that training camps are a way for someone to get away from their daily life, focus on rest and recovery while training more! Most adults with careers and families force their training while skimping on sleep, stretching, proper diet, or other recovery techniques. Training camps allow for people to focus on the training AND the recovery all while enjoying a bit of mental peace. I’d encourage folks to sign up for a training camp and go AND leave their smartphone at home. I’d also encourage folks to adopt a training camp mentality into certain times of the year (high volume month or high intensity week, etc.). Pick 1 or 2 main things to focus on in addition to the training and make those happen!


How has coaching changed your own running and racing?

Coaching allowed me to view the pursuit of goals as a worthwhile, life-changing endeavor.


We’re so lucky that you keep bringing your amazing skills to the Gemini Adventures races. Do you have a favorite race and distance?

I LOVE the Trail Running Festival in Fruita every April. Beautiful. Amazing course. Great aid. Perfect time of year. Just incredible. The double marathon is my choice event at this race.


What do you love to see at the finish line after a race? [Ed. Note: we’re always looking for ideas!]

I love to see real food at finish lines. Chili, sandwiches, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. I tend to crave real food after a day of eating a bit too much sugar, etc.


What’s one of your greatest adventures?

I did an epic 55 mile run in Canyonlands last year with my buddy Timmy Parr. We set out on what was supposed to be a 28 miler, but we could not connect it back to the car. We had no map, had run out of water and food, had no head-lamp, but we turned around and retraced our steps all the way out! We ended up barely finding the trailhead to take us up to our car, hiked through the dark, and lived to tell about it. Amazing adventure!

Saturday, 24 January 2015 08:10

Gemini News – Desert RATS 2015

Desert RATS 2015


Desert RATS is the longest running stage race in North America and 2015 will be the best year yet. Many things about this year’s race will be unique. It’s a reunion year with amazing deals for previous year’s RATS and their friends (click here for details), and we’re also really excited about new improvements. This run caps the Gemini Adventures season in June with a 148 mile crossing of the iconic Kokopelli Trail. Starting in Grand Junction CO and ending in Moab UT, it’s the kind of adventure that will change your life. The beauty and authenitic challenge of living in the backcountry for a week, along with the deep friendships made, make this a journey for racers in many different ways. Every year, we ask racers to take a post-race survey so that we can continue improving your personal experience. We continue to make improvements based on these recommendations and this year is no different. We’ve listed some of the changes below, the whole crew is so excited to make this the best year yet.


Desert RATS is more than just a race. It is not only a journey through true backcountry desert but within yourself.  While some will race, most are there to test their mental and physical limits. Don’t expect to set personal records for the distance you’ll cover, you will need to pace yourself for the heat and terrain. You must have patience and grit in order to not be fighting your own frustration. The race is about the experience, pushing yourself and making friends along the way.
At Desert RATS, the adventure is the goal. It’s about reaching deep within yourself, adapting to adversity and overcoming the challenges in front of you. Those who enjoy Desert RATS the most come into the experience prepared and willing to be flexible in every way.
The racers who truly enjoy the event and gain from the experience are those who appreciate the beauty of the land, the camaraderie of other adventurers and the thrill of relaxing in the Colorado River at the end of the day. This adventure is not for everyone. It’s not an expedition to survive or a race to win, it’s an experience to live.
While every racer’s week is different, the common experience is the grand scale of the event. The heat is extreme, the beauty is vast and the friendships run deep. Our hope is that as you travel this incredible landscape you will discover a piece of yourself.



1. Earlier start on the first day of the event.


The new start time of the race will be 10:00 am on Monday morning. The new early start time on the first day will not only allow the racers to put some miles behind them before the heat of the day but it will also give them time at the end of the day to recover, hydrate and rest up for the long day to follow.


2. Additional course markings on Day 1. 


In order to keep racers on course throughout the first day, we will have flagging highlighting difficult turns. Previously, racers followed the correct trails by a combination of maps, Expedition Journal’s written instructions and BLM sign posts. On the first day there are two turns in particular that do not have clear BLM markings and have led to wrong turns that will now be marked.


3. Three additional aid stations will be added on Day 2. 


In order to help racers along the long grind of the second day, two water drops will be turned into aid stations (Western Rim AS and Westwater Mesa AS) and will be stocked with food, drinks and staffed with medical crew. The third new aid station (Pumphouse Road AS) will be approximately four miles from the finish line. It will be that little boost to bring them in after they have been out there for a long, hot day.


4. Day 5 will begin at Dewey Bridge. 


This new start line will cut the 52 mile Expedition day down to 43 miles. By starting at Dewey Bridge, there won’t be a need to shuttle runners to the start line and will not only allow an earlier start to the day but it will also allow racers to climb into the mountains, through the hottest, driest, most remote section of the entire course before the heat of the day and on fresh legs. What was previously a water drop at the top of the road will now be the Canyon AS at 5 miles into the day. The shorter distance means that more racers will finish before nightfall and the cut-off at the end of the day will be midnight.


With these and other minor changes we’re committed to making 2015 Desert RATS the race of a lifetime!

Saturday, 24 January 2015 08:09

Training – Winter Traction

Winter Traction

As the weather gets cold and the snow begins to fall adventurers are beginning to look for ways to continue getting out on their favorite trails while remaining safe.  One of the most dangerous aspects of winter training is the ice on the trails.  Whether you live in the mountains, plains, suburbs, or city you can run into icy conditions.  A simple way to deal with this danger is to create screw shoes.  Screw shoes are made by taking a pair of old running shoes and drilling 1/8 inch sheet metal screws into the lugs.  Be sure to drill them into the lugs!  It is easiest if you use an electric drill with a magnetic hexagonal bit.  By screwing the screws into the shoes, this will allow the screw heads to bite into the ice in order to give traction.

The million dollar question is; how do I arrange them on the soles of the shoes in order to maximize traction.  Many people have ideas on where to place the screws but it is important to keep in mind that a foot strike is a very personal thing.  As you get ready to place your screws try to imagine slipping on the ice going uphill and downhill.  Where and when will I slip, where do I want the traction?  Runners will use anywhere from 10-20 screws with most people placing them in a circular shape on the forefoot and another circle on the heel of the shoe.

On the Trail
Q&A with Bear Barnett, Adventure Tour Guide

James “Bear” Barnett is the operator of Solxplore, LLC providing remote environment medical and rescue support, courses and equipment. He’s an experienced paramedic, guide, and educator. Gemini Adventures has been fortunate to work with him for over 4 years and this year he’ll start an exciting new position leading our small group running and biking tours. When Bear is not working with Gemini Adventures he can be found exploring and/or working canyons, peaks, oceans and rivers of the world.

What led you to becoming a guide?

I moved to the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen and Snowmass) out of high school. In this valley I lived on my bike, board, or other craft of exploration and was surrounded by intelligent, well-traveled explorers of the world. Their spirit, my educational path and my activities lead me in the direction of guiding and emergency services. I never had a choice really. This is my path.


What can clients expect on one of your adventures?

Well, that depends upon the client and the moment. Everyone and everything is always changing. I sometimes see myself as a bit of a chameleon, capable of changing colors to adapt to who I’m exploring with, varying moment by moment. Some moments we need to absorb the beauty; some we need to push ourselves hard; some we need to learn to stay together and provide one another support; some we just need to be little kids on our bikes, with a card in the spokes, streamers on the handlebars and a wide grin our face as we enjoy the downhill. Expectations… really, I find it best to roll without expectations. A clear mind makes a clear spirit and healthy body more likely.


What inspires you about the Kokopelli? Trails/rivers in general?

Landscapes of the Earth — deserts, rivers, mountains, oceans, small towns and even cities — are willing to give us the answers we’re all looking for, or have already found. For many, without exploration and socialization life loses the magic. Backcountry routes connect us with exploration as well as civilizations past and present, allowing us to feel the magic in and around us.


What does this job mean to you?

I’ve always been a seeker of purpose since flying from the nest of adolescence. I found profound purpose in emergency services, and find equivalent purpose within guiding Seeing the awe of surrounding beauty paint someone’s face, the emotional release of them pushing themselves to finish the day, or hearing the words of awe and perspective shift pass from a client’s mouth at the end of the trip are truly magical.


What’s one of your greatest adventures?

My most colorful adventure was a five-month journey in Vietnam. From the highest peak, through the jungles and villages, amongst the cities and deep beneath the ocean I learned more then I could have imagined about people, the sanctity of our wild areas, about having faith and the profound nature of commitment. I arrived with less than fifty dollars, and left five months later with about the same. Working-ish vacation!

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