With the picturesque scenery of changing leaves, fall is a great time to run off the beaten road and take the road not often taken—the trail. Here are five fun trail workouts to improve your speed, strength and running happiness.
The Flow Run
Purpose: To build trail-running fitness, learn how to pace yourself without a watch, and to find the rhythm and flow on the trail.
This workout is for newbies or those getting back to running on trails. It's common for runners to run by pace on the road. However, pace means nothing on a trail given the terrain, which may include hills, sand, mud, rocks and roots, all of which create resistance and slow you down. The real joy is in finding your new flow on the trail and running to the tune of your body instead.
- Warm up by walking 3 to 5 minutes.
- Run for 30 to 40 minutes, letting the trail come to you and adjusting your pace as needed with the terrain. Tune into your breath and run at an easy to moderate effort. You should be able to talk in sentences. If you can't complete two to three sentences at a time, you're running too hard.
Hills, mud, sand and other obstacles will raise your heart rate due to the greater resistance. If your heart rate gets too high for the run to feel comfortable, downshift and allow your heart rate and breathing to remain in an easy to moderate zone. Finish the run feeling strong, happy and in the flow.
- Cool down by walking 3 minutes.
Purpose: To raise your threshold to run faster at an easier effort and learn how to run at a comfortably hard effort for a sustained period of time.
Tempo runs are all about running at or just above your threshold at which your muscles start to rely more on anaerobic metabolism for energy. Running a trail tempo demands discipline because it requires you to maintain a comfortably hard effort across variable terrain and obstacles for a period of time.
It's the gold standard workout for runners because it raises your aerobic roof, allowing you to run at a faster aerobic pace. Running tempos on a trail is even more demanding because the varied terrain requires constant attention to pace. You need to make adjustments to maintain a comfortably hard effort, much like changing gears on a bike to maintain a cadence and effort while cycling up a hill. The secret to performing this workout right is to use your gears. For some runners, that may mean walking a hill or technical spot, and for others it may mean easing up on the throttle. Regardless of what gear shifting method you use, it's all about trying to maintain a constant effort across a varied terrain.
- Warm up by walking 3 to 5 minutes and then run at an easy, conversational effort for 10 minutes.
- Run for 15 to 20 minutes at tempo effort—just outside your comfort zone, during which you can only speak a few words at a time rather than full sentences. (You should be able to hold this effort for 30 to 45 minutes if you had to.)
- Cool down by running 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort and then walk for 3 minutes.