Hill Training Without the Hills

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 2 minutes

Q: I have a hilly race coming up, but there are no hills where I live. How do I train for this?

Brandon Marsh answers:

A: For athletes who live among flat terrain but travel to races with some elevation, hill training can be a common problem. Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the only hills I had were overpasses. When I traveled to Austin or other northern areas of Texas to race, I was bound to encounter hills on the course. So, how did I overcome this obstacle?

First thing’s first: a rider’s cadence is typically lower on hills, so try not to get carried away with a quick turnover. Your focus should be on steady, powerful pedal strokes. Here are a few other tips to help you train for the ups and downs:


  1. Face the wind. Work the windy sections of your training rides to simulate long, gradual hills. When you hit a headwind, over-gear your bike to slow your cadence ““ somewhere around 65-75 RPM. This should be a moderate to hard effort that you can hold for an extended climb.
  2. Integrate intervals. To simulate shorter climbs, you can use headwinds or calm, flat ground to work in intervals. Over-gear your bike again and put forth a hard effort for 2-3 minutes ““ it should feel like a steep hill underneath you. To mimic getting up and over the hill, let off the gear but maintain a similar effort for 2-3 minutes more.  Repeat these short intervals as many times as needed.
  3. Prop yourself up. Some days the weather keeps you inside, but you don’t need to skip your training session. For a more realistic climbing scenario, you can use an indoor trainer with a block placed under the front wheel. Hop on your propped-up bike and pedal through the intervals, as outlined above.
  4. Hold on. Whether you are indoors or out, try to maintain the same position that you are going to use when climbing the race course. If you have a tri-bike with aerobars, you might hold on to the basebar. With traditional handlebars, you can hold the brake hoods.

Remember: anyone can be a hero on the first half of the hill. It’s on the second half of the climb that you can overtake other athletes. So, approach the hill with a steady effort and see your skills climb to new heights.

Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at ask.the.triathletes@gmail.com. On Twitter, follow Brandon @BrandonMarshTX and follow Amy @AmyCMarsh.