Trail Running Workouts: 4 Sessions to Spice It Up On the Dirt

If your go-to workouts have you dreading your training runs, try these easy tweaks to stay engaged, hone your skills, and gain fitness.

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Looking to spice things up on your next run? Structured workouts are intended to be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable too. Try out one of these 4 trail running workouts to put a little flavor in your regimen.

Go Long for Race Day Practice

For some trail runners, the long run is the best day of the week; but for others, it’s the most feared. Knowing that not everyone loves long distance trail running, it can help to think of these workouts as mini race-day simulations.

Find a course with a similar profile to your goal race if possible, and build in workouts with intervals of 2-10:00 at a goal heart rate or pace to give you a feel for the fatigue you will experience on race day. Start with multiple short intervals totaling 20:00 and work up to a larger workout. Duration of the intervals is all relative to your workout, but total time at goal pace or heart rate shouldn’t push beyond 90 minutes to 2 hours, as the recovery time from this level of fatigue can be extensive.

Use this workout in the middle to latter stages of your build up to test all aspects of your race day preparation, including nutrition and hydration. Remember it’s better to fail in a workout than it is to fail on race day!

3,2,1,2,3,2,1 – Inverted Pyramid Trail Running Workout

I don’t recommend doing many workouts on truly technical terrain, as the consequences of a mistake can be severe. Instead, I recommend using this interval workout to practice changing your turnover on mild to moderately technical terrain.

Structure this workout with equivalent rest to the interval. In other words, if you’re running hard for 3:00 @ Half marathon pace, run 3:00 of recovery before 2:00 at 10k pace, followed by 2:00 of recovery, then 1:00 at 5K pace, before 1:00 of recovery jog. This is a great workout to challenge yourself and help you better understand your abilities.

Session a Downhill or Uphill

Running is a skill you can hone, especially when you’re running 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 that long climb that you always struggle to nail down, or a descent that scares you. Use the idea of sessioning as a trail running workout by breaking your nemesis into sections and timing yourself on each one. Once you master a certain section, begin linking them together to make a bigger section. As you gain confidence through sessioning a particular climb or descent, you’ll find your comfort and confidence on trails in general will skyrocket.

Fartlek – The Trail Running Workout Variety!

This is one of my favorite monotony breakers to prescribe to athletes who just need something different. This trail running workout 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 uphills 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.

Take these trail running workouts for a test drive on your next run. You might just find that your standby trail run takes on a whole new feel!

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Andrew Simmons is a USATF Level 2 and TrainingPeaks Level 2 certified coach and the founder/head coach of Lifelong Endurance. Athletes who want to improve their race times in distance running have found major success with his Individual Coaching and Training Plans. Andrew resides in Denver, Colo., where he still trains as a competitive amateur. Follow Coach Andrew on Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter.

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