Spice up Your Training: Four Go-To Workouts for Trail Runners

Written by Andrew Simmons for the Summer 2019 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Andrew is the Head Coach for Lifelong Endurance, TrainingPeaks, and a USATF Level II endurance coach.

Looking to spice things up and add a challenging and fun twist to your trail running training? Workouts are intended to be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean that the additional structure won’t be fun and enjoyable. Try out one of these four workouts to put a little flavor into your training regimen.

Mixed Long Run with Intervals
For some trail runners the long run is the best day of the week; for others, it is the most feared. Knowing that not everyone looks forward to a long, slow mileage day on the trails, use your long run to incorporate intervals into the effort. Spice your long run up with 2-3 miles of three minutes at threshold pace followed by three minutes of recovery running. You can make this more challenging by increasing the duration and decreasing the rest. Your long run also provides an opportunity to dial in your nutrition before race day. This is the time to experiment with fueling and find out what works best. Race day is not the time to try something new.

Photo by Ian Corless.

3,2,1,2,3,2,1 – Inverted Pyramid
Changing gears is so important in trail running especially in shorter distance races. Use this interval workout to change your turn over on mild to moderately technical terrain. I don’t recommend doing many workouts on technical terrain, as the consequences can be severe. Structure this workout with equivalent rest to the interval. If you’re running hard for three minutes at half-marathon pace, run three minutes of recovery before a hard two minutes at 10K pace. Follow this hard two minutes with two minutes of recovery then notch it up for one minute at 5K pace, followed by one minute recovery jog. Then go back up the other side of the pyramid with two minutes hard at 5K pace, rest two minutes, three minutes at half marathon pace, rest three minutes. You can extend this workout going up and down the interval pyramid for a solid 20-30 minutes, or more depending on where your are in your training. This is a great workout to challenge you and will also help you better understand your barometer of ability.

Session a downhill or uphill
Trail running is a skill you can hone, especially when you’re dancing over rocks, braking into turns, or climbing up steep grades with ledges. Knowing how to run quickly downhill and pace yourself uphill will help take your training to the next level. Think of a long climb that you always struggle to nail down, or a descent that scares you because you always have to slow down. Use the idea of sessioning as a workout by breaking them up into sections and timing yourself. Once you master a certain section begin linking them together to make a bigger section. Once you gain confidence through sessioning a climb or descent, you’ll find your comfort and confidence on trails will skyrocket.

Fartlek – The Trail variety!
This is one of my favorite monotony breakers to prescribe to athletes who just need something different. This is literally a make it up as you go. Similar to the pyramid workout but far less prescriptive, a fartlek is a series of hard sections mixed with moving intervals, which has the makings for a good hard run. The basics of a fartlek mean that you run at whatever pace feels right between you and that big tree in the distance, or maybe you just run all the up hills on a particularly undulating run. Use this as a way to come back after a race, or just a great way to blow off some steam when a structured workout isn’t in the cards just yet.

As with any tempo run, interval workout, or fartlek session, be sure to do a pre-workout warmup as well as a post-workout cool down.

Take these workouts for a test drive, but be sure to take a rest day or two between hard efforts. Incorporating some spice into your trail running might just give you a whole new outlook on your training and racing.

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