Mike Foote's 20 week BIG VERT plan for intermediate to advanced mountain runners


Uphill Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston

All plans by this Coach


20 Weeks

Typical Week

2 Day Off, 2 Other, 5 Run, 1 Strength

Longest Workout

4:30 hrs

Plan Specs

running trail advanced multi day hr based tss based strength base period

This plan is protected by our Refund Policy and may, with the author's approval, be exchanged for a plan of equal value from the same author.

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Are you targeting mountain running race or event with major elevation gain and loss?   Are you considering running one of the famous multi-day routes in the Alps?  Do you have a good mountain running background? Can you handle routine 40 to 60 miles (65-100km) weeks? Are you mainly challenged by the daunting elevations demands of these runs and wonder how you'll even get your legs to handle that much vertical?  Or do you live and train in a place that does not have easy access to mountains? Maybe you hit the mountains running, so to speak, after a snowy winter that limited your training options. If so, then continue reading. This is a plan designed to help you prepare for runs that contain a large (for you) amount of elevation gain and loss.

We have made this plan customizable to fit the needs of as many different runners and events as possible. The weekly volume (distance, time and vertical) totals shown in the plan summary do not show the actual progression you will make. You will determine the starting weekly distance and vertical gain/loss based on the event you are training for.  Weekly distance and vertical will start at about 50% of that event's largest single day's total and then progress to about 100% of that figure for longer events and more than 100% for shorter events.

The progression of the program will help those who need to develop running specific muscular endurance and boost their fatigue resistance.  This will allow them to handle both the uphill work and the downhill pounding of the Big Vert. The key difference in this plan vs most other running plans is the inclusion of a special gym based circuit style strength workout to build the key muscular endurance.  This workout is used 1x/week in a progressively more difficult form for the first 9 weeks before moving to more traditional long uphill interval workouts for the next 8 weeks. Another specific leg strength workout progresses through the first 10 weeks before transitioning into short hard uphill intervals for the remaining weeks.

For detailed information and to understand how this plan is constructed, please consult our book, “Training for the New Alpinism” published by Patagonia Books. Here’s useful beta about how to purchase and start your new plan and why we use TrainingPeaks. For specific questions about this training plan, or to send us your success story email us at coach@uphillathlete.com.

Thanks for becoming an #uphillathlete

Steve House and Scott Johnston


Training Load By Week
Average Weekly Breakdown
Average Weekly Training Hours: 08:50
Training Load By Week
Average Weekly Training Hours: 08:50
Average Weekly Breakdown

Uphill Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston

Uphill Athlete LLC.

What originally inspired us to write Training for the New Alpinism, and what inspires us to continue to share the things we’ve discovered through Uphillatlete.com, is the information void when it comes to specialized training for endurance mountain sports. We have successfully demonstrated a more systematic approach, using proven principles, to help you improve both your chances of achieving your goals, and your long-term fitness and safety in whatever mountain sport you are practicing.

Back to Plan Details

Sample Day 1

Aerobic Threshold Test for Zone 1 and 2 determination

If you are careful and diligent you can do your own test using Training Peaks Premium edition. 
Thats what we are going to explain now. Read this article to understand this test better.

This test can be done on either on a treadmill, stair machine or a flat to very gentle loop course outdoors.  It can not be done on an uphill/downhill out and back course.

1) TREADMILL: Set treadmill to 10% and begin hiking slowly. If training for flatter runs set treadmill to 3% and run. Gradually build speed over the first 10-15 min until HR stabilizes at what you FEEL is an easy aerobic effort. If you have a good idea of what your Aerobic Threshold HR is then target that HR for the beginning of the test. NOW YOU ARE RADY TO BEGIN THE TEST.

NOTE: If hiking you may need to use a steeper grade (10%+) in order to get you HR up sufficiently.

Once that speed and grade is dialed in do not adjust speed or grade again during the test. Run or hike continuously for 60 min at this speed. Record HR and upload to TP

TREADMILL CALCULATION: Since GPS does not work indoors the pace part of the Pa:Hr will not be accurate so you can not use the TP Pa:Hr metric on a treadmill. That's why is so important that you hold the pace and grade constant once you start this test on treadmill. It is very likely that you will see an upward trend in the HR over the course of the hour. To calculate HR drift you need to select the first half of the test in the graph of HR/Pace?elevation. Note the avg HR for each half. Compare those to see if avg HR rose more than 5%

2) OUTDOORS: Run, preferably on a flat (or very gently rolling) course, at what feels like an easy aerobic pace. Once your HR stabilizes start the recording feature on your GPS enabled HR monitor watch. Record for one hour while you do your best to keep the HR as close to that initial HR number. Upload the data to TP.

If the Pa:Hr is greater than 5% your initial HR/pace was above your Aerobic Threshold and you should do the test again at a lower HR. This may take several attempts to find a Pa:Hr decoupling of less that 5%.

Once you determine your AeT HR set that as the top of your Zone 2 in your Training Peaks Zones. Subtract 10% from this and set that as the top of your Zone 1.

Sample Day 3

Zone 1 trail run

Do this run in a fasted state in the AM.
Warm up gradually for 15-20 min so that the final 5 min are at AeT HR and you have a good sweat going.
Run the remaining time in Z1. Walk the steepest sections if you need to stay in your HR Zone.

Sample Day 4

Lactate Threshold Test Instructions

Lactate Threshold Test Instructions
This test determines your lactate or anaerobic threshold (LT or AnT); which will be useful help control and monitor your training. It should be performed at least 3 days after any hard efforts. You can do this either on a steep treadmill (minimum of 15%) or a steep uphill. 

Find a hill that will take about 45 min to climb at maximal effort. You will run as hard as you can while pacing yourself not to tire too early. We are looking for your average heart rate during the climb.

• Do a 15-20min warm starting easily and gradually building the effort until you break a sweat. Ease into this warm up so that your aerobic system is fully on-line by the end.

• As soon as you are done with the warm up continue immediately into the AnT test. Once you start, go as hard as you can sustain for the full duration up this steep hill.   Pace yourself so that you don’t blow up 5 minutes into the test.

NOTE: If you do not have an extensive aerobic training history or have any doubts use a 30 minutes test. Those with many years of mountain running should use a 45 to 60 minute test.

• Note your average heart rate for the full test. This will be your AnT Heart Rate.

This HR will set the upper limit of your Zone 3 in the Training Peaks Zones in your personal data.

Sample Day 5

Functional Runner Strength for remedial hip strengthening


This simple strength workout uses mainly body weight exercises and focuses on single leg stability.  

Use the following link to view a demo video for these exercises.

Once familiar with the exercises go through this complete workout. as you gain strength add weight in the form of holding dumbbells or adding a weight vest.

Warm up:
10xTrunk flex/rotate complex
10xCalf rocker
10xleg swing
10xJumping jack
10xDiag Hops
3x(20sec run in place+ 10sec High knee run)

3x Through circuit. 15sec rest btwn exercises 1min rest per circuit:
4xCompass Points (4x 4 touches each leg)
20xSupine leg raise
10x Lunge (each leg)
10xWindshield Wiper
10x Single leg Deadlift (each leg)
10 x Saw plank
10x Split Jump Squat (each leg)
1min rest then repeat

Gluteus Med exercises:
Prone gluteus med activation 4x max duration holds.
Hip Hitch 4x 15 reps each leg
Knee Stability with Band 4x15 reps each leg
Then add the 2 exercises from the assessment video in Day 3.
Skater 4x15 each leg
Box step down/heel touch 4x15 each leg

Cool down static stretches;

Sample Day 5

Hill Sprints for specific strength (option)


Use 20% grade minimum and 50m-100m long hill is best. Find the steepest short hill with good footing.

Warm up: This is critical to avoid injury with this workout so do not short cut the warm up.

A) 15 min easy running up to your hill.

B) Important to get well warmed up for this. 10 min dynamic stretching exercises 10 total reps of each of the following exercises:
1) Walking, pull alternate knee to chest
2) Walking high front kick, reach to touch toe with opposite hand
3) Squat jump
4) Front lunge
5) Jumping split squat

C) 2x 30" med effort hill run
2x30" skip up hill

Do the hills sprints as laid out below
Wk#1&2; 2 sets 4 x 10" sprints
Wk#3&4: 2 sets 6 x 10" sprints
Wk#5&6&7; 2 sets 8 x 10 " sprints

Easy 2 min walk down recovery between each sprint. Take 5 min easy stretching between sets.

Cool down: 20' cool down run

Sample Day 6

Long Aer Base Run

This run is used to improve your basic aerobic capacity. It should be done in the upper HR range of Z2 (as determined by the AeT test on day#2) IF THE SPREAD BETWEEN YOUR AeT and AnT is more than 10%. IF that SPREAD is <10% then do this run mostly in Z1 with no more that 30min in Z2.

Sample Day 8

Z1 or recovery run

This run needs to be easy as your legs are going to be tired from the ME workout this week.
Stay on the flats or gentle terrain. Total distance should be about 10% of the weekly total

Mike Foote's 20 week BIG VERT plan for intermediate to advanced mountain runners

$49.00 - Buy Now