Running Shakedown: the Flat-Lander Theory

Two summers ago I ran 38 days with not one day of rest. The experiment was designed to shakedown the effectiveness of three running theories: maintaining a slower training pace, increasing base mileage (above 50 miles/week), and the effect of running predominantly on the flats – all within a rapid progression, 7-day/week program.

The research that had sold me on a flat-lander theory says, “to ensure that your running is geared to aerobic development and not muscular development, as much running as possible should be done on paved surfaces to get maximum traction (or to achieve the best aerobic development within the given time, putting the pressure on the cardiac system not the leg muscles), and over a flat course so neuromuscular breakdown won’t stop the duration of the long run.”

Mountain is not synonymous with flat, and this took me to the track at the Rec Center for at least 5 out of every 7 runs. Just one year later, we had moved to the North Carolina foothills where I spent 5 months running the hills exclusively – providing a much clearer picture of the other side.

Some studies conclude that running hills will solve all running ailments, claiming as few as two hill sessions a week will improve leg-muscle strength, quicken your stride, expand stride length, develop the cardiovascular system, enhance running economy, and can even protect against leg muscle soreness. Maybe this is true for two hill sessions a week, but six sessions a week may in fact kill you straightaway.

The mass consumption of hills disrupted my rhythm, and simply wore me out. My thighs, hips, calves and glutes ached for weeks. I will admit, however, things eventually improved. I learned to maintain a rhythm through the hills, and my legs seemed stronger. Turns out, hill running can provide an alternative to the gym for building leg muscle strength, but that’s the only thing I’ll give it.

When the school children went on Christmas break, I snuck through the gate surrounding their track and ran my heart out. Then I discovered Aggie Stadium (A&T University), home of the Irwin Belk Olympic class track . . . my new running home.

I would be the first to admit there are disadvantages to running a track. It can be incredibly boring, only somewhat offset with a sufficiently entertaining playlist. The IT Band may tighten and become sore on longer track runs (1-1/2 hours or longer for me), and then there’s the wind.

Nonetheless, my days at the track will not end soon as the Yays! far outweigh the Nay’s . . .

More recent studies have determined running on a hilly terrain produces about a 30% improvement, while runners training on a flat terrain experience a 60% improvement.

Although I realize studies can be found to support just about any theory, the conclusions from this study reflect that running on a flat terrain is less intense, and the reduced intensity allows for more training, and more training is a bigger stimulus for improvement; essentially the same conclusion Arthur Lydiard derived decades ago. We’ve come full circle so-to-speak.

And that’s the shakedown on the flat-lander theory.


  • A standard outdoor running track has a length of 400 meters (in lane one), with two bends and two parallel straights, both radii of which are equal.
  • The distance around the track was established by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, founded in 1913 with representatives from 16 countries.
  • The formula, L = 2S + 2pi(R + (n-1)w) can be used to calculate the distances around the track for the various lanes. In this formula L equals the lane distance, S equals the length of the straightaway, R is the radius of the turn, n is the lane number and w is the width of the lane.
  • For tracks in compliance with IAAF guidelines, four times around the track in lane four is almost 1700 meters, 100 meters more than the distance in lane one. Four laps in lane eight equals almost 1815 meters, or 215 meters further than four laps in lane one.
  • Track direction is counter-clockwise, unless otherwise posted (however rare).
  • Pass runners on the right when running in the counter-clockwise direction; on the left when running clockwise.
  • Slower runners and walkers stay to the outside lanes. Inside lanes are reserved for faster runners, and runners doing speed work.
  • Complete your warm-up and cool-down in the outside lanes.
  • Don’t block the lanes. Theoretically, two runners (or walkers) moving at the same pace can share the same lane.
  • Be aware of other runners on the track.
  • Look both ways before crossing the track; runners always have the right of way.

2 thoughts on “Running Shakedown: the Flat-Lander Theory

  1. Winter training in Canada’s north has meant a lot of indoor track running for me over the past couple of months and I often worry that I am not getting the same workout and preparing for the marathon as well as I would be if I could train outside. For whatever reason it didn’t occur to me that likely, someone would have studied exactly this… Thanks for the impetus, I’m going to go do some further reading.


    1. I smiled when you wrote that you were swearing off spring marathons because I do the same thing every other year – until I train through the heat of summer, and then swear off fall marathons! My race times improved and I’ve had fewer injuries since I slowed my pace and ran more on flat terrain, but there’s so many variables it always seems like trial and error. On the bright side, we’re having a warm day and spring will be here soon! Thanks so much for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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