What kind of training does a world class mountain runner and marathoner do? Robbie Simpson shares his favourite session.

The 2:15 marathoner recently finished third at the Commonwealth Games, yet the Scottish athlete is more widely known in the mountain running world, winning races across Europe and medalling at the World Mountain Running Championships too.

So naturally, when we spoke to Simpson about his favourite training session it would have been a disservice to list just one. The versatile Scottish hill runner takes Fast Running through his favourite hill session and his favourite marathon workout as well

As in Simpson’s career, the hills come first

“It has to be continuous uphill fartlek,” states Simpson when asked about his favourite hill run. “I started doing these sessions after my second summer season in the Alps.

“I was struggling with the sustained uphills of an hour or more and found these much more race specific rather than sprinting up a hill then jogging all the way down. My coach at the time (Martin Cox) suggested trying these and they helped a lot.”

A lot of the mountain races that Simpson has excelled at in recent years have sustained uphills of 1000 or more metres of climbing. With training advice coming from seasoned mountain athlete and coach Martin Cox the workouts were perfect for these events. 

“First find a long climb ideally 40-50 minutes long averaging about 10% with some flatter and steeper sections mixed in,” he says. “Normally I’d do a session like 6 x 5 minutes (3 easy) or 8 x 3 minutes (2 easy) but the recovery is also ran uphill, just at an easier effort.”

Controlling the effort in these sessions can be key, for both the hard sections and the recoveries. Too hard in either and it can affect the session as a whole.

The GB mountain runner agrees and says: “It’s hard to recover fully if you push too hard in the rep so it’s important to ease in the session rather than attacking the first rep or two.”

Enjoy the view

There is of course also the great views to be enjoyed on hill workouts.

“The best thing is you get to finish at the top of a big hill and appreciate the views rather than traditional hill reps with downhill recovery,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll do the session up a mountain with a cable car then take that back down afterwards and save the legs. After such a tough aerobic session, the lift means they can feel great the day after.”

Now a cable car may be a luxury for Alpine mountains but there is always the Snowdon Train for those based in North Wales. If you’re reading this in somewhere like Norfolk or Cambridgeshire then there are plenty of UK hills that would fit a session like this. 

Areas such as the Lake District, Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and huge areas of Scotland can be visited in a weekend and it can be great to combine a faster, higher quality session like this with a easier longer day in the hills the following. 

The Deeside runner continues to show his versatility. On the 13th May victory in the Ben Lomond fell race, followed by running 30:29 for first place at the BHGE 10k in Aberdeen (20 May) and then just a week later winning the Gamperney Berglauf in 45:57 in Switzerland. That’s 8.8km with 1000m of climbing and three victories in three weeks. Chapeau.

Check back next week when Simpson has promised to share his favourite marathon session.