The Mount Elden Workout

1. What’s the workout?

“The Elden Workout” is inspired by a 5.5-mile dirt road climb on Mount Elden (9,301’) just north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The road is a popular route year round for distance runners of all abilities.

2. How do you do it?

Version #1: For new-to-running athletes or runners early in their training cycle: Warm up for 15-20 minutes. Run 2 miles uphill at marathon EFFORT then turn around and run down the same 2-mile hill, increasing your speed from marathon- to half-marathon PACE on the way down. Cool down for 15-20 minutes.

Version #2: For advanced athletes or those in the meat of their training cycle: Warm up for 20-30 minutes. Then run 4-6 miles uphill at marathon EFFORT. Turn around and run down the same 4-6 mile hill, increasing your speed from marathon- to half-marathon PACE. Cool down for 20-30 minutes.

Version #3: If a single sustained climb is unavailable, this version allows the well-trained athlete to amass the same amount of work by doing repeats. Warm up for 20-30 minutes. Then run 2-3 miles uphill at marathon EFFORT, turn around and run down the same 2-3 mile hill at marathon- to half-marathon PACE. Recover with 8 minutes of slow jogging at the bottom and then repeat the same 2-3 mile climb and descent again. Cool down for a few miles.

3. Where do you do it?

You’d ideally perform this workout on the type of terrain you’ll face on race day.

If you’re training for the Boston Marathon, seek out a route that mimics the grades of the Newton Hills and the descent to the Charles River near mile 15.

If it’s the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, seek out hills that simulate the steep American River canyons in the middle of the course.

If you don’t have access to such terrain then work with what you have available. If your hills are small, do more repeats at the efforts listed above to amass a similar volume. Using a treadmill (especially one that has the ability to decline) will prepare your legs much better than doing all of your workouts on flat routes.

4. Why do you do it?

When done early in the training cycle, version #1 lays the foundation for the tougher workouts ahead by:

  1. Boosting lactate threshold — the ability to hold faster paces for longer
  2. Building leg strength development
  3. Developing neuromuscular efficiency and form control
  4. Building confidence

Versions #2 and #3 continue to build on these same principles. When your goal race is long, these two workouts build endurance and will help give you the staying power you’ll need to get to the finish line.

Regardless of the race, be it the Boston Marathon, Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run or somewhere in between, the Elden Workout will prepare you for the rigors of the specific terrain challenges your goal event presents.

5. When and how often should you do it?

Uphill running is one of the best all-around workouts. It challenges the heart and lungs, strengthens muscles, increases power to leg turnover and, depending on the length of the hill, it improves the ability to tolerate fatigue. These low impact workouts will leave you huffing and puffing, but chances of injury are relatively low.

Downhill running, on the other hand, also strengthens leg muscles and offers the opportunity to work on form, quicken leg turnover and improve neuromuscular coordination. However, it’s very ballistic and can cause significant muscle damage if the body isn’t adequately prepared for the slope, length or speed of the descent.

If it’s early in the training cycle or you’re new to downhill running, start gradually with several of the version #1 workouts (every other week). Take it easy. Training your downhill muscles too aggressively too soon will leave you sore and unable to train comfortably for days and may cause injury.

Once you’ve mastered this workout, integrate the longer versions into your schedule every second or third week during the peak of your training to prepare your body for the beating it’ll take on race day.

Check out Sundog Running coach Emily Harrison executing version #2 perfectly on Mt Elden: Strava – Elden Version 2

Sundog Running athlete Devon Yanko throws down an impressive version #3 of the Elden Workout in the Marin Headlands: Strava – Elden Version 3

Sundog Coach Emily Harrison Torrence putting the Mount Elden Workout to good use during her course record run at the 2013 Moab Red Hot 55K. (photo by Kristin Wilson)