Trail running is an excellent way to buld up all around conditioning and should be a staple in a well rounded training program for most athletes.
I’m an advocate of including trail running in a training program for a variety of reasons. I’m going to list some of the potential training benefits of incorporating trail runs as well as methods to use them for your program.
– Fun : If the weather permits depending on the area where you live/season, it beats the motonony of logging miles on a treadmill. A program will be far more effective if you know that you’ll be able to fully commit to it and find the workouts enjoyable or at worst tolerable. For many people just the idea of churrning the wheels on the treadmill like a hamster is enough to scare them away from running. There’s a major enjoyment factor that is multiplied for most people to be able to run in a natural setting. The plants, animals, and variety of the trail make it feel like a new experience every time. Even if you run the same trail, the path will be different each time because of the pounding the dirt takes from different people running on it throughout the week.
–Injury Prevention: Trails are one of the best terrains to run on because they don’t stress the joints like other surfaces. Most popular running trails will have relatively soft surfaces from being ran on so often and undulating grades. There’s far more give on a dirt trail than concrete or asphalt. Grass and sand are also excellent terrains to run on for these reasons but because trails are so worn they provide a more even surface to run on.
–Running mechanics: a trail with hills will autoregulate your running mechanics without you even having to consciously focus on technique. To run up a hill of any inclination because of physics your body begins to recreate the initial drive and acceleration phases of the sprint. This type of practice will have direct carryover to improving sprinting mechanics and increasing speed, something that is beneficial to all athletes.
Trail Running Workouts
Intervals – You can do this the traditional method of a certain time amount sprinting/recovering or better yet alternate the intervals based on the terrain. Sprint up the fills and use the space between hills as a recovery period. This is beneficial for building up aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. The EPOC effect of sprinting up a hill is difficult to replicate in any other training scenario.
Tempo Run – Running below the lactate threshold so that it’s comfortably hard is a beneficial running style for any sport where management of lactic acid is crucial to athletic success. The keys with these types of runs is to run at a pace that you can finish the trail but challenges you throughout, as your conditioning improves you’ll be able to go at a faster pace.