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A common theme that I see in my coaching is that ‘speed work’ is something to be done on the road or track, with trail running workouts limited to hill reps and long runs. In a way, I can see the logic here; you’re only able to run really fast on the road, so surely you should do your faster training on the road.

But don’t we say that one of the key elements of training is race specificity? This means including training that is directly related to your race – in other words, including workouts that should mimic your race requirements in one way or another. So, it surely makes sense to include some more race-specific workouts on the trail for any runner targeting an upcoming trail race.

Any trail runner can attest to the fact that running quickly over technical terrain is most certainly something that requires a high level of skill – and, like any skill, it requires practice. Despite this, many runners only ever practice their ‘technical’ running at slower speeds that don’t really replicate the skills required at race pace. There’s no reason why our typical speed workouts can’t be replicated on the trails – whether it be intervals, fartleks, tempo runs or any other sort of variation of faster running.

While road workouts are often prescribed in terms of precise paces, these need to be adjusted to effort-based workouts on the trail as the pace and distance will completely depend on the terrain. As an example, a typical speed workout of 5 x 1km @ 4min/km could be adjusted to a workout of 5 x 4min @ 5km race effort on the trails.

These sorts of workouts are something I’ve used with great success in my own training and that of others. Initially, pacing can be pretty tricky as many runners are used to using their watch and pace as a guide. But with practice, you get a far better feel for pacing and this in turn is also a great skill to learn for your racing. On top of this, these workouts are a lot of fun and can be a great way to mix things up in your training.

In terms of route choice, it makes sense to use trails that will mimic the sort of route you will be doing in your target race. If possible, an even better option would be to do some of these workouts along parts of your race route.

Regardless of your route choice, including a bit of trail work into your workouts will enhance your trail skills and give you a lot of extra confidence and ability when it comes to moving quickly and smoothly over the trails.

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