Your Quick-start Guide to Strength & Technique Training on the Trail

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I just have to report my newest, favorite workout: my Monday morning trail intervals.

In fact, I successfully used this regimen to prepare myself for an age group win at the 2009 National 10K Trail Championships.

I’m starting where I’m at right now. What I mean by that is, I’m in no kind of shape to race right now, but I’m willing to up the ante and begin adding a little chutzpah to my running workouts, in return for a little more trail speed. So, I’ve begun running trail intervals once a week and I’ve picked Mondays to do them, because it gets my week off to a brisk start. These workouts allow me to practice proper running form and keep me in great shape for my marathon training. What I’m doing with this particular workout is training my body to hold a steady running pace regardless of whether I’m climbing or descending on a trail. This does an incredible job of conditioning my heart, lungs, and legs in a relatively brief 30-40 minute exercise.

Here’s the breakdown:

I warm up for about 10 minutes easy and then start the countdown timer on my watch, which will beep at one-minute intervals through the whole workout. Then, when my beeper sounds off, I start running at race pace (PRE-7*) for exactly one minute until the beeper goes off again, at which point I run at a resting pace (PRE-3*) for the next minute. I then alternate this cycle of race pace and resting pace for the remainder of my run.

The beauty of doing this workout on trails is that no matter where I’m at in the trail (running uphill or downhill), I have to break into a race pace whenever my beeper tells me to. This means that sometimes I’m “racing” downhill and sometimes I’m “racing” uphill…and sometimes, I’m having to do both because I might get caught in a transition between the two. All of it is great for my running form, my balance, and my conditioning level because it is the best way for me to practice all of the various situations that will happen on race day…without feeling like I have to keep a race pace going for an hour. All I have to do is practice racing in little one-minute increments, which is entirely doable… and even fun!

Try to not walk during your rest intervals, unless you absolutely have to. In the second half of the workout let yourself do some 2 minute intervals with one minute breaks. If you have a particularly hard push on one section allow yourself two minutes of break, but don’t walk.

On each one minute interval, alternate between speed and rest cycles. Don’t push harder, but instead try to use the focuses that allow you to run faster and easier. On the rest intervals, do everything in your power to rest and relax without dropping into a walk. In “rest mode” drop your shoulders, dangle your calves, lower your arms, let up on your lean.

Driving with your pelvis is actually pushing your legs on the gathering cycle of your upper body as your upper body contracts (obliques) it twists your spine, driving your pelvis and legs to the rear.

Finish the last part of the run slightly slower than race pace, but decent speed. Don’t forget to cool down with a jog into a long walking section.

Happy Trails!

(*PRE – Perceived Rate of Exertion: Exertion level based on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being easiest and 10 creating instant exhaustion. See ChiRunning Book pages 14-16)

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