5 Ways Runners Can Use Trail Running to Get Faster

Trail running makes you strong. It can also make you faster. “But wait,” you think, “I look down at my watch Garmin afterwards and the times are slower!” Ahhh…it all comes back to effort, My Dears, effort.

Hills take a LOAD more effort running up than running on the flats. #lessonfromcommonsense Haha. Force those legs of yours to put in the extra effort needed to get up those inclines thought and you’ll build power. Now a lesson in running mathematics:

Power = Strength = Speed

running mental fence
Blast up those hills and the second you take it to the track or flats, you’ll be thinking how much ‘easier’ it feels. This summer, take it to the trails (the right way) and you’ll come out stronger, faster, and ready to kick butt. It’s not just about ‘base building’ it’s about ‘power building’.

5 Ways to Do Your Power Building Trail Running RIGHT

1) Get Efficient: You’re not doing hills right if you’re hunched over like Quasimodo. Hills make it even more important you hold proper form. Check out my post on form HERE and when taking it to the hills remember:
* Stand Up TALL: Keep that torso straight!
* Don’t Lean: Don’t lean too far into the hill, keep your center of gravity above your hips; your hips will naturally be SLIGHTLY leaning into the hill, but you should think in your mind about standing up straight because quite honestly you’ll probably ‘feel’ like you’re leaning WAY back behind you but in reality are where you need to be. Focus on staying upright.
* Shorten Stride: Keep the same effort running up the hill but shorten your stride. Focus on the faster turn-over and power up that hill!

2) Eyes Ahead: Keep your eyes focused on the top of the hill, you want to power all the way UP and THROUGH the crest. Too many runners make the mistake of powering up and stopping juuuuust short of the crest which means they lose all that momentum they worked SO hard for getting up. Run THROUGH the hill so you can use that momentum to power down it.

3) Blasts vs. Endurance: Just like track and flat speedwork, hill running workouts should be tailored to match the goal for the day’s workout. Short 10-30 second hill blasts can be thought of like plyometric work. It will REALLY build that base speed, it’s all fast twitch; so remember to take FULL recovery for short blasts, as is the law of the sprinters and taxing the anaerobic energy system. Longer hill repeats and doing tempo workouts on a hilly course will further build that endurance and strength so when you take it to the flats the same EFFORT will yield much faster times. It’s always cool to step from the hills to the track, look at the watch and surprise yourself, no? :)

4) Rolling and Exploring: Even doing your easy days on the trails will build power. Over time the ups and downs make you stronger; it’s important to keep your easy day EFFORT easy though so you’re still actually recovering. So again, ignore what the watch says and run for effort.

5) Downhill Running: It’s important to remember that everything that goes up, goes down. #duh Running downhill puts a lot of stress on the body and as any Boston Marathon runner can tell you downhills can REALLY do a number on those quads. Downhill running isn’t ‘easy peasy’ on the body. So if you’re training for a race with lots of downhills it’s smart to practice running downhill. If you’re prone to injury beware, because the extra pounding can cause knees and ankles to get cranky. Final tip on running downhill: don’t FIGHT it. Relax, let gravity help you, and don’t try to fight it…roll with it, Runner Babes.
find adventure after the sidewalk ends
So if you’re not sold on hills and exploring trails, and that they will make you faster, yet…just go to Instagram and check out some of those nature pix those avid trail runners are posting! The miles will fly by. Go out…explore, adventure, LOVE the run!

CHECK IT OUT!! Ezzere made Competitor’s list for TOP fitness tees!! Wahooo…the Peacock Runner Tee, sitting at number 3 on the slideshow. :)

1) Best, most amazing trail run you’ve even been on?
Nisene Marks Park in Aptos, CA. Go there.

2) Favorite hill workout?

Runner’s Strip Cartoon Movie Shorts: Hill Repeats

Because we’ve ALL had those prickly bush fantasies in the middle of a workout or race. “I’ll bet hucking myself into that tangle of nettles will be a LOT less painful than what I’m doing now.”

hill repeats cartoon running movie

It may not always be a prickly bush, but the mind certainly has a crazy way of looking for any excuse to get you to stop running. Fighting those ‘excuses’ and telling yourself to IGNORE that whiney voice inside your head is something ALL runners deal with. Constantly.

We know that complainer, that voice telling us that we can’t, will always be there. We start every race and workout aware that the time will come when the pain sets in, but we ALSO tell ourselves that we CAN push much further past what that whiney, compliany, snot-nosed little voice tells us.

Run mentally tough…abstain from hucking yourself into that prickly bush. Well, at least until you’ve gotten through all the repeats, then, well, do what you will. ;)

Be a GAMER: How to be confident going into workouts and races
Master Your Nerves: How to use pre-race nerves to your advantage
More posts on mental toughness HERE
More Runner’s Strip Cartoon Movie Shorts HERE
1) What was your last ‘prickly bush fantasy’?
A bush.
2) What are some other funny thoughts/fantasies you’ve had during workouts or races?
3) What has become the best way for you to stay mentally tough during workouts and races? What’s your most-used tool?

Rule Your Running Terrain: Because races aren’t done on a treadmill

Unless you’re racing on a track, there’s SOME kind of terrain you’ll need to be prepared for come gun-time. Even during track season athletes have much to gain from varying the terrain on their workouts.

  • Power and Speed: Hills build strength and when taken to flats that translates to speed. That same kind of logic applies to doing repeats on grass, the times may be ‘slower’ but you’re working harder and building strength.
  • Injury Prevention: Running on softer, more forgiving surfaces helps reduce impact and thus lowers your chances for injuries in the long-term.
  • Diversity: Running is a very repetitive action and mostly only working in a single, horizontal plane. At least by varying things slightly you’re able to give your body a bit of diversity; if you fail to do this, smaller muscles get weak and imbalances become injuries in waiting.

Those are all general reasons why mixing up your running terrain is a good idea, but if you know your actual race course will have key elements you’ll need to be prepared for, it’s even more important to introduce those same obstacles in training.
turn left on the track
Hilly Courses

  • Uphill Repeats: It take power to get up those hills; including uphill repeats into your routine may seem like an obvious but not all runners actually DO hill work, or they don’t mix-up the kind of work that they do. Think of hills in a three-pronged approach, similar to your regular running workouts. 1) Do 100-200 meter hill bursts, allow for full recovery between each repeat; this is your speed session for the week. 2) Longer, 600-1600 meter hill repeats for your endurance-focused interval sessions. You could also do tempo runs uphill (on a treadmill set on a grade if you don’t have an actual course). 3) Including rolling hills into your easy days ‘sneaks’ hill work in.
  • Downhill Repeats: Many can overlook just how taxing a lot of downhill on your race course can be. If your race has a significant amount of downhills (Hello, Boston Marathon!), be sure to get used to running on the decline; your quads will be working even if you don’t ‘feel it’ right away. You can include some downhill repeats in your training; just be careful in terms of injury because downhill running does increase the forceful pounding of running.
  • Form: Running hills makes it even more important to have good form; when running uphill maintain the same effort that you would but decrease your stride length. When running downhill, make sure that you’re not tensing up and causing yourself to ‘brake;’ rather, relax and let the momentum of the decline help do some of the work for you.

trail runner
Trail running

  • Ankles and lower legs: Trail running is about as diverse as running can get, twists, turns, awkward foot-plants aplenty. Here is where you need to be sure your ankles and feet are used to landing in various positions. The way to do that is, well, running trails, taking turns, and including mobility work outside of running.
  • Core and Mobility: To reduce your risk for injury when running, you want to have a strong core, be flexible, and have as much range of motion as possible. Schedule time for strength training, dynamic stretching, and drills; not only will it help safeguard you against injuries it will improve your running performance.

Tracks, Roads and the Elements

  • Tangents: Some math logic here, but running longer adds more time to your race results. Road races are measured off of the shortest possible marked distance, so look for those tangents and don’t run wider around turns than you have to. On the track, unless you’re going to be boxed in, do your best to not needlessly wander into outer lanes.
  • Drafting: Even on the calmest of days drafting makes a difference, mentally it’s much ‘easier’ to sit behind someone else and let them do the work. If it’s especially windy, find a body and tuck in behind them!
  • Weather Conditions: The conditions of race day can make a HUGE difference in your performance; not only should you take these into consideration for your race-day pacing goals but train in the same kind of conditions. For cold races be extra certain you do a full warm-up to make sure your muscles are properly warm and ready to hit those faster paces.

Until the day that all races are held on treadmills, runners should be mixing up the terrain of their workouts and runs. By tailoring your training to your specific race course you’ll be setting yourself up for even better results. And hey, who doesn’t want to run that much faster and have a bit of an edge over their competition? ;)

1) How do you train for your course? If it’s for the track, how do you add diversity to your workouts?

2) Do you prefer road races, track races, cross-country, or trail races?

3) How do you plan, adapt, or prepare for various weather conditions?

best running shirts

What Kind of Runner Are You? Trails, Tracks, Treadmills and Roads…Oh, My! (Part I)

When it comes to your choice of terrain, what kind of runner are you? Do you crave the speed of the track, the solitude of a long trail run, dodging car splash on the roads, or zoing out on the treadmill?
trail runner
I was sucked in forced to watch one of the episodes of The Bachelor (that Ben guy, am I the only one who finds him a bit of a scruffy version of Dax Shepard?) where they were in Park City, UT and he was saying how he’s an ‘outdoorsy’ guy. He likes to be out in the woods chopping trees, riding horseback, fishing, and such. All I could think was, “Dang, I would be sucking wind out there on any runs.” Then some flashbacks to some particularly gnarly runs in Park City followed that.

Trails can be really beautiful and fun to run on (not at altitude for me, thank you very much, unless you’re acclimated to it and used to living there) and they have a way of making the miles pass faster than you think…until you look down at your watch and realize that thanks to that climb the miles were technically pretty slow! :P

I’ve never really lived in a place where there were ample trails that were safe to run on year round. The thing with trails is you need to be really careful because if you’re not you’ll wind up hurt…or worse. I loved the quote World Class trail runner, Michael Wardian, gave me awhile back, “I remind myself not to zone out while outside and especially on the trails where a bad footfall can mean stitches and a new tooth.”

When to Dodge the Trails:

* Really rocky.One of the benefits of trail running is that it can be a much more forgiving surface than concrete IF it’s actually soft terrain. I’ve been to some trails where I was basically running on rocks and gravel which is not going to give your legs anything in the way of cushioning. On top of that the loose gravel stuff could set you up for a nasty fall or ankle twist.

* Slip and sliding…slick trails. In Oregon there were some beautiful trails but, hello, it’s Oregon and it rains a ton which means that the trails were really slick and slippery the vast majority of the time. On top of that if there is a lot of foliage…have you tried running on a bunch of wet leaves…it is your own slip and slide.

* Drastic uphill and downhill running.
Lots of uphill running will make you sore (which can be a good thing if you’re intending some harder work to build strength) BUT so will tons of downhill running. The additional pounding and force of each footfall thanks to gravity when running downhill is tremendous, it’s really hard on your quads, knees, and joints. So be careful if your route has a lot of downhill.

* Roots, twists, cougars, darkness, and the other stuff.Since we’re discussing safety it’s important to bring up the obvious factors here…you need to practice running safety regardless of where you’re going but if you’re going solo for a trail run be sure to tell people where you’re going and how long you plan to be out. No one wants to go out for a run and end up having a search party bring them home…and that could be the happy ending of that story.

road runner

Another benefit of trails is that they usually make for easy insta-pop-and-squat spots! ;)

That said, there are a myriad of benefits to trail running…and if I had more access to some trails I’d get out there more.

* Strength. Like I said, running hills will build your strength tremendously. That extra strength will translate to speed when you then run flats.

* Happier joints and injury prevention. Like I said if you get on a softer surface you can do much in the way of reducing the pounding on your legs. This is one reason lots of elite athletes will go to place where there are miles of soft trails…soft trail miles are ‘easier’ on the body and with the amount they are putting in that adds up to a world of difference.

* More supple joints. Having to navigate twists, turns, and uneven surfaces will strengthen the smaller muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the ankles and feet. This, if done gradually and smartly, (don’t go from no trail running to all trail running all at once or your feet won’t have time to gradually get stronger, they will just get hurt!) will make your ankles and feet stronger and less prone to a sudden pull or sprain down the road if you do step in a pothole.

* The mental factor. A change of scenery is always nice and like I said, if you get going on a good trail that long run can ‘feel’ shorter.

So, what kind of runner are you…if you’re a trail-a-holic now’s your chance to voice why they’ve stolen your heart! ;) This post got really long so I’m going to break it up into a series and spread the love of the track, roads, and treadmill in the next installments…mmmmk.

1) Do you like running trails, do you get a chance to run on them a lot?

2) If you had more access to trails would you take advantage of them? If not, why?

3) What are some things you need to be careful about when running trails?

4) What are some of the benefits of hitting up the trails?

Bookmark and Share

Get Faster by Getting Stronger Running Hills – Build Strength to Gain Speed

Jack and Jill ran up a hill to make them faster runners. Jack fell down ‘cuz he couldn’t keep pace and Jill went barreling up faster. I think I like that nursery rhyme better, don’t you?
trail runner
Hill running, hill repeats, hill tempos, hilly switch-backs, hilly long runs. All of them can improve your strength and speed as a runner. Some people seem to think that runners fall into one of two categories: hill runners or flat runners. To some degree it’s true, you may naturally be better at climbing than someone else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve by running hill.

“I by no means think I have mastered the hills or climbing but I am improving and for me that means hours running up vertical inclines, sometimes fast sometimes just a long grind, but always pushing to get better,” explains ultra marathoning champ Michael Wardian, “I am trying to do hills a few times a week, that is a weakness or has been so I want to fix that.”

During base training season is another instance where adding hillier routes into the mix is a great idea. “But I’m getting ready for track season, not cross-country, why should I be doing hill repeats now?” you may wonder. The answer is because hills will make you FASTER on the flats. The power and strength you gain from running up hills will translate to being speedier when you go back down to the flats.

Don’t believe me, then try this. When I was training with the Nike Oregon Project, Alberto Salazar would have us drive out to this sketchy little track at a local YMCA. It was comical that Olympians (not me, my training partners, trust me, I know my place! haha) would be busting out workouts while dodging potholes in lane one and sharing the track with tons of walkers who were completely oblivious. Why did we go to this track, because it sat right next to a hill where we could alternate between track intervals and hill repeats.

Try This Hill Sprints Workout:

* Warm-up (duh)
* 4×200 meters on a track (with 200 meter recovery jog)
* 8×200 meter hill charge (easy jog back down for recovery)
* 4×200 meters on track (with 200 meter recovery jog)
* Cool-down

How much ‘easier’ did that second set of 200′s feel once you were back down on the track? Compared to the hill blasts you probably felt like you dropped the sandbags you were carrying. Strength from hills = speed for flats. If you don’t have a track next to a hill you could do this on the treadmill and adjust the grade.

track runner

hill power = track speed

Short hill repeats are just one example. Even doing your ‘easy’ days on hillier routes will build up those quads. With anything in your training you want variety, so mix it up. Doing a tempo run uphill is a go-to workout for the Hudson Training Systems group; Coach Brad Hudson stresses that here the focus is not so much on the actual splits but effort.

Long hill repeats…back to pothole, podunk track we’d do track/hill/track combo workouts anywhere up to 800 meters on the hill. That’s the longest this particular hill was, but that’s hardly stopping anyone from finding a longer hill. Back to Wardian, who actually does a lot of his training on a treadmill, he likes to do repeats of 3 miles in length; he ramps the incline up each mile starting at a 4% and ending at 8%.

The thing you do have to be very careful about in running hill repeat type workouts is running the downhills which is really tough on the knees in particular. Go really easy and keep in mind if you’re doing a long run with lots of rolling hills or downhills your quads can get mighty sore from the downhill portions…you may not think that would be the case!

With anything, practice makes perfect and there is a technique to running uphill. (Downhill too, but for brevity sake I’ll cover that in another post) Don’t let yourself hunch over; stand tall, if you feel your shoulders up in your ears, shake out your arms and relax.

Keep your eyes locked up and to the summit, that helps with staying tall, and be sure to power through the top and up over the crest. Don’t stop right before the top because you’ll break all the momentum you built up…you want to use the momentum to keep you moving and then fly back down the backside. (If you’re racing that helps a lot! What goes up must go down.)

So don’t be like Jack, follow Jill and tackle that hill. Then when it is track time you’ll feel that much faster.

1) Do you like running hills? Do you consider yourself a hill runner?
I tend to do a little better on flats…I need to build up some quad strength!

2) What kinds of hill workouts or runs do you do, if any? Do you do treadmill incline workouts?

3) Do you live near hilly trails or running routes? If not, how do you simulate hills?

Bookmark and Share