The benefits of speedwork on the trails

If you’re training for an upcoming trail race or ultramarathon, you’re probably already incorporating weekly speed workouts because they improve the efficiency of your stride and your aerobic and anaerobic capacity. How often do you double down and do your speed workouts on the trails? I think there are lots of benefits. Of course, I’m not a coach or a training expert, and I have the ulterior motive of trying to convince you to come run the sweet trails in Birds Hill Park. With that being said, here are some great reasons to train on the trails, in my opinion:

1. Practicing footing

When you’re training for a technical race that includes steep downhills or rocky terrain, your coordination can be the difference between a finisher’s medal and an injury. Any kind of practice running trails helps because you get used to picking a line down the trail, keeping an eye out for tripping hazards and looking far enough down the trail to maintain some speed.

2. Injury prevention

A recent article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests starting a race undertrained increases a person’s risk of injury during the race. I’m not trying to scare you, so I’ll put that more positively: showing up to your race fully trained not only increases the likelihood you’ll have the fitness and mental preparation to meet your goals, you’ll also be less vulnerable to injury. Incorporating some fast trail workouts builds the stabilizing muscles you’ll need to maintain good form during a longer race. You can even use these workouts to test the footwear and gear you intend to use on race day. Speaking from personal experience, I find that the extra force behind each footfall during a fast run gives me a good gauge of how protective my shoes are.

3. Practicing pacing

How you pace yourself on a twisty trail is very different from how you run on a road or treadmill. Sharp turns and hills (however small) require you to constantly adjust your speed. Doing a shorter run on the trails that’s faster than your weekend long run allows you to test your fitness and your mental resolve. Sure, you could handle those tight turns and modest dips by running at a slow easy pace, but can you run fast enough to be breathing hard at a pace you can maintain for the entire distance? Learning what that pace is for you over a given distance is useful come race day.

The shameless plug for our trail series:

I sincerely believe that there are real training benefits to be gained from running on the trails in order to prepare for a trail race. I also believe that doing some of your faster, shorter runs on the trails expands the range of your trail running abilities. There are lots of different ways you can structure a speed session on the trails, whether it’s by doing intervals, a fartlek, a tempo, or something entirely different.

Trail Run Manitoba is hosting its next Summer Trail Series race on August 4. If you’re looking for an excuse to get on the trails at Birds Hill Park for a race, a good workout or an excuse to see your friends… we hope to see you there!

Mallory Richard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *