Training for the Uphill Athlete and mistaking the icing for the cake)


Sorry to my followers for the long radio silence. My writing ‘career’ has nearly stalled as the result of too much ‘real world’ work – including some interesting projects such as launching the first EcoTrail Wicklow race. For that reason, I’ve decided to make some changes: I have no immediate plans to monetise this platform beyond donations given freely by people for my general writing. I will repost my articles on all my platforms. Your support greatly appreciated but as I cannot commit to a firm writing schedule, I am happy to let everyone read and contribute for free.

I want to pick up the 'Educated Runner' with a series of articles focused around 'Training for the Uphill Athlete by Steve House, Scott Johnston and Kilian Jornet.

This is one of the most useful training manuals I have read in my coaching career. The book is so good there were times – while reading it – I thought to myself ‘why waste your time writing The Educated Runner – just tell runners to read this.

As I have touched on the in the first posts on this page, all training rotates around the same core principles – universal rules that apply to everyone. The art of coaching is how those rules and principles need to be applied to individual runners and individual contexts. ‘Training for the Uphill Athlete’ (TFTUA) doesn’t succeed because it presents new revolutionising content never heard of before but rather, like all recent successful training books, through how it manages to communicate useful guidelines on how these universal training principles must be applied.

This is not to say the book is devoid of originality – very few books are written on specifically how to train for mountain running (the book covers mountain running and ski mountaineering). While the title says ‘Uphill’, the principles here apply to the ‘uphill/downhill’ athlete. 

I believe it's very useful to show how a book relates to universal principles of training. It helps remove focus from ‘what system to choose’ (Canova, Lydiard, Daniels, Maffetone, FIRST etc.)  and instead raises the more important question: ‘what interpretation of the universal principles of training do I find most easy to apply to my immediate context’.

 One coach may have a better system for training his athletes, but you may find his way of communicating that system to you confusing. So it’s important to read as much training lore as possible if you’re a coach or a self-coached athlete to maximise the perspectives you get on these same principles.

Rather than review the book itself (I have not done a book review in a very long time), I want to take a different angle here and go through the universal principles presented in the book, relate them to the principles of training I have outlined here and show how the authors (Steve House, Scott Johnston and Kilian Jornet) manage to present age-old training principles in a new and clearer light. 

This requires a series of articles as there are many points to go through and I want to keep the posts within reasonable length. In this post, I’ll take a quick look at how they use a ‘100 mile rule’ as a simple heuristic to implement the principle of ‘First things, first’.


The principle of first things first deals with prioritising what is most important and focusing first and foremost on that before getting distracted by ‘marginal gains’ and other things that could contribute to success but are not as important as the ‘main thing’.

As over 50 years of practice and the recent Stephen Seiler study has shown, the most important determinant of success in running is ‘volume’. And to attain volume we need to achieve consistency. To have consistency we need to have good recovery. To havegood recovery, we need to possess a very strong aerobic system. To possess a very strong aerobic system, we need to do as much easy running (defined in TFTUA as Zone 1 and Zone 2 training – or every run done below the ‘aerobic threshold’) as possible.

Throughout TFTUA many useful ‘heuristics’ (rules of thumb) are provided and one of the first are: run 100 miles easy before starting any structured training. The authors say it could take a veteran 2 weeks to do this and a beginner 6 weeks. There’s nothing magical about the 100 miles – it’s simply a very easy goal to set someone to ensure they acquire the resilience for ‘actual training’. I love rules like this because they are easy to implement and follow AND FOCUS THE MIND.

Arthur Lydiard outlines a slightly different approach that mimics this with his increasing ‘easy out and back’ runs in his original 1965 book ‘Run to the Top’. I dubbed this period ‘Fundamental’ for my own training system because the definition of fundamental is ‘forming a necessary base or core’.  In TFTUA, the authors refer to this period as the equally apt ‘Transition’ period (a term I reserve for the period transitioning from a peak race into the next training cycle). 

Essentially, the ‘run 100 miles heuristic’ seeks to attain what I consider the first part of the three constituents of running: Consistency, Endurance and Speed. Endurance requires volume, but you can only attain volume if you have trained consistently enough to attain the durability to survive and thrive from the volume. The endurance then – through building up the aerobic system – provides you protection against fast work (speed and intensity) which for athletes without consistency and endurance is simply harmful.

What I and others call 'consistency', the TFTUA authors refer to as 'Continuity' which they define as:

"Maintaining a regular schedule of training with minimal interruption. "- Training for the Uphill Athlete

When your first goal is to achieve consistency and continuity and avoid interruptions to your training, your decision-making process changes. A simple goal such as 'run 100 easy miles to get ready for training' helps anchor such a process. When you value consistency over hitting splits, completing hero workouts and displaying monumental mileage for a week on Strava, you are on the way to something special. 

Consistency is the realisation that performance comes from improving your average training load over very long periods of time and not from '6 massive weeks' or '3 hard key workouts'. Too often we mistake the icing for the cake.


  • There are not multiple competing training systems. Merely different interpretations and methods of implementing the same universal principles. 
  • The more perspectives you read of the same principle, the better you will understand it. The more you practice , the more you multiply that understanding.
  • Before you train to improve, you 'train to train'. A simple goal such as 'run 100 easy miles then start training' can help ease you into a tougher routine
  • Volume enables intensity. Volume requires gradually and consistently running more and more. Running more and more requires doing most of your running very gently (below aerobic threshold)
  • Don't mistake the icing for the cake. Individual workouts and Individual weeks contribute very little to your final success. Your average performance over very long time periods is the main determinant of performance.