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Woman trail running in the mountains

Training For Trail Running: From The Road To The Trail

Since 2010 trail running and trail running races have boomed. More and more people are hitting the trail and are reaping all the benefits of making this transition. However, running on the trail can be quite different from road running, which is why training for trail running is so important. I made the switch many years ago and haven’t looked back once!

It was 2007 and I had temporarily moved over to Austria from Canada as one of my stepping stones to move for good. I had been running races for 15 years at a fairly high level, both duathlons and running races. Naturally some on trail but definitely a lot of road. Then I entered my first real mountain trail run / climb. Oooh, I was hooked after the first one! And for the next couple months I kept entering myself into mountain trail races.

That was the big switchover for me and has totally changed my running and enjoyment of it. Even the community of people has changed. That was 13 years ago and now most of my running is on the trail and mountain.

It is a great passion of mine to help runners transition from road to trail or at least add some adventure into their current routine. And perhaps some of you runners out there have thought about adding some trail running into your weekly plan? Well, you’re in the right place!

Of course the best training for trail running is trail running! Just getting out there. But I would also like to add some buffering and tips to make that transition even smoother.

Feet running on the trail

Photo credit: Alpenboxx.com

Why ‘hitting the trails’ could really benefit you

Injury Prevention

Every foot strike on a road or tarmac is generally the same over and over. When you are on trail this strike changes constantly therefore always recruiting different muscles in different ways. The impact of the foot is spread out more making it less repetitive stress on the joints and muscles.

High quality air

This is especially true if you are living in the city and always running amongst the cars. Even if you choose one run a week away from it all in the trails, you will gain huge benefits. Just being in nature and breathing in the cleaner air and taking in the low stress nature will allow you to breathe fuller and improve brain function, which in turn will affect your thoughts and productivity.

Call to adventure

Everyone has a little call to adventure. To venture into something new and different and to take on a challenge so what you do does not become monotonous. So I invite you to choose 1-2 runs a week as a road trip for you. Travel to get to those special trails, alone or with a friend. Venture out on new terrain. Notice how this will invigorate your soul and increase your love of running.

Balance, coordination and muscle development

This is a big one! You couldn’t ask for a better overall workout, especially if you are on hilly and mountainous terrain. Your legs will be strengthened to a greater degree compared to road running as you take on the ups and downs. Your legs adapt to more eccentric load on the muscles because of the downhills. Eccentric contraction causes more muscle damage than regular muscular contraction, thus signalling the body to become stronger and more resilient.

Running on trails is also the perfect way to challenge your balance and stability. You have
ups and downs, rocks and roots, mud and grass, streams and puddles. Calling in your core muscles and stabilizers around the joints call for more energy use and therefore an even better BURN!

Mental Health

Decrease anxiety and boost mood as you play. Reduce tension, confusion, anger and depression, creating a space for more creativity.


Alpenboxx Trail Running Hit the Trail 10km Plan

The below plan includes different trail running workouts that you can add into your trail running plan for better running efficiency, more fun and get to fitter faster!

WEEKMONTUESWEDSTHURSFRISATSUN
1Recovery
Yoga
Mobility
Steady runStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
HillsRestLonger
run
Strength
Easy run
or walk
2Recovery
Yoga
Mobility
Tempo runStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
HillsRestLonger runStrength
Easy run
or walk
3Steady runFartlekStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
HillsRestLonger runStrength
Easy run
or walk
4Recovery
Yoga
Mobility
Easy runStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
Tempo runRestLonger runWalk
Hike
or play
5Recovery
Yoga
Mobility
HillsStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
Tempo runRestLonger runStrength
Easy run
or walk
6Recovery
Yoga
Mobility
HillsStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
HillsRestLonger runStrength
Easy run
or walk
7Steady runTempo runStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
Steady runRest10km trail runChill
8Recovery
Yoga
Mobility
Steady runStrength circuit
Mobility
Foam roller
Yoga
Tempo runRest10km trail runNew
strength
program

Printable trail running training plan

Download a more specific and detailed version of the above 8 week trail running plan:

Download printable trailing running plan

Those that are new to trail running can apply the above trail running workouts with less intervals or the lower end of the repeats.

NOTE: It’s important to remember that you are not sprinting when doing intervals. You are bringing the body out of the comfort zone for the stated time (a few notches faster than your steady pace).

Trail running workouts explained

  • Strength circuit

    Circuit training for trail runners if something you can do at home or at the gym using minimal equipment. It’s a great trail running workout to do when you’re not able to get out on the trail.

    For a full trail running circuit take a look at the video in the section below.

  • Steady run

    Effort level: 6.5-7.5 out of 10
    You maintain a constant pace but not an easy run or hard, either. You are at your cruising level to get you trained to hold pace over a period of time and enjoy your rhythm.

  • Longer run

    Effort level: 5-7 out of 10
    Aim to go at a lesser intensity but for a longer time than what you are used to. On the trails it will be hard to keep a steady constant heart rate because of the ups and downs. Just remember the purpose at this point is not speed, it is going the distance. You should feel good at the end, sometimes energized!

  • Hills

    Effort level: 8-9 out of 10
    Hills develop your leg strength and are a great low impact way of doing interval training. They help to get you in better shape for your steady runs on the trails.

  • Tempo run

    Effort level: 7-8.5 out of 10
    This means that you run outside of your comfort zone for the specified time or distance. You need to push yourself, but you also need to be able to hold that pace for the duration, working at around 75-80% of your max.

  • Fartlek training

    Effort level: 7-9 out of 10
    This is a fun way to add unstructured intervals into a trail running workout. You can choose randomly to surge the uphills or the downhills, do short sprints or play leader games with a running friend. The intervals should be a mixture of 30 seconds, 1 minute and 2 minutes going fast or choose to interval between street lamps or trees etc.


Examples of trail running workouts to do

Hill fartlek training

Duration: 35min-45min

  • Repeat every good hill you come to three times

  • In between pick landmarks to push pace and then recover.
  • Do at least 5 intervals Have Fun with This!

OR

  • Pick a running location with a great hill.

  • Run easy to get there then do 5-6 repeats of the hill.
  • Rest until recovered.
  • Return home by doing 4 x 1 minute fast bursts.

Group intervals

  • Do a fun group trail running workout where each runner leads and decides on the intervals.

  • They dictate how far, how fast or how many hills. Killer, but great fun

Tempo run

Duration: up to 45min

  • Run 3-4 x 1km at a faster than normal pace with rests in between.

  • This is a good trail running workout to do at a track (4 times around is 1km).

OR

  • Run for 1-2km at an easy pace as a warm up,.

  • Do 3-5km at a race pace.

Hill runs

Duration: 45min

  • Run easy for 10 minutes

  • Do 3-4 long Hill (600-800m) or 6-8% gradient on a treadmill
  • Or 6-7 shorter but steeper hills.

Woman running in mountain meadow

Photo credit: Alpenboxx.com

Strength circuit for trail runners

Circuit training for trail runners is an efficient way to target lots of muscle groups in one workout. Plus, it will also get your heart rate up and help you improve your cardiovascular fitness at the same time.

Strength circuit video

Before you get stuck into the below circuit, be sure to warm up with a 5 minute jog and 5 minutes of mobility exercises.

There are many ways to creatively put a circuit together but to keep it simple we will do a basic circuit style.

  • Round 1: Perform each exercise for 60 sec /20 sec rest
    For exercises done on each side..do 30 sec per side
  • Round 1: 50 sec/15 sec rest
  • Round 1: The kicker! 30 Sec/10 sec or try with no rest

Below the video you can find more detailed explanations of each exercise, which can also be done independently in sets, rather than in a circuit.

Split squat

This is a one leg squat with the back leg elevated or on the ground. Keeping the knee tracking over the front foot. Be focused on keeping the knee in line with foot. When it wanders inward, contract your glute to pull it back in line. Perform just bodyweight with both feet on ground. Progress to back leg being elevated. Push through the front heel to a full extension and back to 90 degrees. This works the glutes, quads and stretches the backs of the legs.

Single leg deadlift with progression to single leg hop and hinge

Stand with knees slightly bent, feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides while holding two dumbbells against your thighs. While maintaining a neutral spine, lift one foot off the ground, and hinge at the hip, bringing your back leg up. Then lower the weight down your legs until it reaches just below the knees. Hold for a second, then slowly press back up to starting position. Repeat. You should feel a slight pull build up in the glutes and hamstring before pushing back to starting position. Switch sides.

Mountain climbers

Work your core and shoulder stabilizers as you perform this horizontal motion either in a running stride or a single knee tuck. Start in a plank position with hands shoulder width apart directly under your chest. Keep the upper body still as you run with your lower body.

Variation – every time you hit 10 mountain climbers, perform 2 push ups.

Superman towel pulls

In a prone position on your belly, have your hands stretched out in front of your head holding a towel with both hands. As you elevate your upper and lower body off the ground, pull the arms to the side creating tension using the towel. Draw the towel towards the chest performing a lat pull motion in the back. Think of maintaining a long spine and neck and point the toes behind you. This exercise is sure to target your whole back: low, mid, upper back, core and glutes.

Marching bridge

Start in a supine position on your back with knees bent or in a bridge position on hands and feet to promote chest and shoulder flexibility. Raise the hips up pushing through the heels driving one knee up towards the belly, then lower down driving the other knee up. Maintain the hips up high. This exercise works the glutes and hamstrings. For extra glute emphasis, raise toes up.

Side plank with leg raise

On your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder create a straight line from your head to feet. Raise the upper leg and pull back a bit. Make sure your shoulders are lined up and your hip does not droop. Maintain the line. Modified version is with the knee down.

Quadraped crunch

This multifaceted exercise gets everything involved. Start on all fours. Place your right hand lightly on the back of your head pulling the elbow upwards. Extend your left leg behind you. Hold for two seconds then crunch your right elbow to the left knee and hold for a further two seconds. Repeat on both sides to work the all parts of the core, glutes, back, shoulder stabilizers and hip flexors.


Woman running in mountains

Photo credit: Alpenboxx.com

Extra tips for training for trail running

When training for trail running, it’s essential to train other elements and not just running. The strength circuit I have with this plan is a great foundational circuit for runners. Here are a few other tips to get the best out of your trail running plan:

01Try primal movement patterns

Primal movement is my favourite full body training method. It integrates mobility, flexibility, intervals, core, stability and strength in the most natural human movements (but not always easy to do and relearn). I find the exercises to have so much benefit for runners, especially when you train primal in barefoot on grass or soft surfaces. This is so good for your feet by waking them up to do the work they are meant to do (but cannot do in regular thick cushioned shoes). It is very important to have a strong core and strengthen the whole body in running, otherwise your whole system is not stable and you have a higher chance of getting injured.

Check out this primal movement video to see what it’s all about.

02Incorporate strength training into your runs

Tubing on the trail is another way to integrate trail running and strengthening together in a fun way. You need a resistance bungee to carry with you in your running pack or pocket. At every bench or certain landmark you can stop and perform 1-2 strength moves for reps or time.

For example:

  • Bench 1: Step ups and push ups
  • Bench 2: Standing bungee rows / single bicep curls
  • Bench 3: Mountain climbers / lunges

You can choose to do one full body strength per week, one tubing on the trail or one strength circuit, one full body primal circuit or two regular strength circuits, gradually increasing the intensity as you build the weeks.

03Do yoga and stretching regularly

This is a MUST in my opinion and will improve your running. There are so many styles to choose from so be sure to find the one that suits you. Yoga reduces stress, helps to balance the energy, calm the mind, improve mental clarity and help with breathing capacity in running. I recommend at least one session per week but two is best.

Make sure to follow up your runs with a 5-10 minute stretching session, short yoga session or even primal mobility moves.

04Wear the right shoes

Now this is a personal choice that has to fit your foot. I lean more towards a barefoot mentality or at least in that direction. I believe it helps prevent injury in the future as the feet and whole system learn to work properly. That said, you cannot move directly from well cushioned shoes into very minimal ones. Your muscles and joints have to be eased into it otherwise you will feel it quite unpleasantly.

05Run or walk barefoot!

I also recommend at least once a week, walking and lightly jogging through grass barefoot to feel the earth on your feet, wake them up and connect your whole system to the earth. This is a whole other topic so I have just touched briefly on it.

06Do what suits you

One of the most important things to successfully training for trail running is to choose and carry out what suits you. Test things out for yourself and then adjust from there. That’s how I learned it all!


For more aweome training for trail running inspiration and information check out www.alpenboxx.com.

About the author

Karrie-author

Karrie Gregson is a trail runner, mountain lover and Chief Adventure Officer for Alpenboxx. Her role as a Transformation Coach includes helping high performance women and men to shift from anxiety patterns that keep them trapped and bound, to boldness and fully experiencing their own personal call to adventure. She is also a Fitness Leader, Yoga Teaching and Bootcamp Trainer.

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