Trail Running Speed Workouts
by Coach Sandi Nypaver and Sage Canaday
Okay, time to talk specifics! Giving away all of our workout ideas would turn this post into a book, but below are a few workouts we think would benefit any trail runner. Feel free to manipulate them to make the workouts work even better for you!
Types of Long Runs:
It’s never a bad idea to start building up your mileage with easy-moderate long runs up to 25-30% of your weekly mileage. However, if you want to truly race at your highest level, eventually you need to start sprinkling some speed in to your Long Runs. This means that some Long Runs are going to be tough workouts not just because of their distance and duration but because of their relative intensity!
Long Run with Downhill Focus:
Uphills and flatter sections can be at an easy to moderate effort (i.e. below 75% max HR or a pace you can still carry on a conversation at!), but all downhills should be fast. Fast, but controlled! Don’t lose good form. Depending on what distance your race is and where you’re at in training, fast might be race pace, faster than race pace (i.e. if you’re training for a 100 miler), or a little slower than race pace (i.e. training for a 5k trail race.) Running downhills at a faster pace can help callous your quad muscles to the increased pounding and stress you will experience during a hilly race!
Long Run with Uphill Focus:
Similar to the above long run, but you’re focusing on pushing the uphills and then recovering on the flats and downhills.
Long Run with Moderate to Tempo pushes thrown in: This can take a variety of forms. For instance, you can do the majority of your long run at a moderate effort of about 75-78% max heartrate (or a steady feeling pace) or you can choose to run the second half of the run at race effort (which could vary based on your target race distance and duration). If you choose to run faster in the second half of the long run you are essentially simulating how you might feel tired at the end of a race when you need to push. Be sure to hydrate and fuel properly on these efforts much like you would in a race!
Types of Speed/Hill Workouts:
Up AND Down Hill Repeats:
Since we often have our athletes take advantage of downhills during Long Runs as well, we use this type of workout of fast downhill Hill Repeats sparingly. The time and distance varies, but here’s an example of what this workout may look like:
1/4 mile UPHILL at a Tempo effort (i.e. 85-87% max heartrate);
1 minute Easy jog;
1/4 mile DOWNHILL as fast as you can while staying in control;
1 minute Easy jog.
Do that whole cycle 5 times and (That would mean you go up 5 times and down 5 times.)
Hill Ladder Workout:
If you struggle with pacing yourself on hills, this workout is for you! For this workout make it your goal to run the shorter intervals faster than the longer intervals. That means you need to run smart on the longer intervals, but always be aware of trying to not sell yourself short. We know it’s a hard balance, but that’s why you’re practicing. An easy example of this workout would look like this:
2 x (4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute). Depending on what type of hill you’re using, the recovery might be the easy jog back down to the start or a set time limit (i.e. 1-2 minutes) between each harder time interval.
A Mountain Runner’s Fartlek:
This is a good one for anyone who knows they’ll be power hiking during their race.
An example workout would be:
10 x (1 minute Running Uphill Fast, 1 minute Hiking Uphill at a Moderate Effort)
Tempo Transitions: In a trail race it’s so easy to struggle with making the transition from a downhill back into an uphill. That’s why it’s so important to practice it during training. We find it’s often done best during trail tempo runs, ideally with hills similar to the ones you’ll be racing on. This can be anything from a 20 minute tempo on trails to something more like 5 x 8 minutes at a Tempo effort (something between a tempo and vo2max effort can work too) with a 2 minute jog between each harder effort. (Don’t you dare let your good running form go out the window on that jog!)
The ball is in your hands now! That’s not a proper saying for running is it? Maybe the shoes are on your feet now? We’ll get back to you on that… The frequency of these types workouts may only be once a week during a peak training phase, however you’d ideally have a mix of a few of them. For example, one week you might do a Hill Ladder workout early in the week and then do a Long Run with moderate tempo efforts thrown in on the weekend. Now that you’ve got some ideas of trail workouts, go and embrace a good challenge and the opportunity to improve!