How to create a weekly training plan that you’ll stick to in the long run
Do you know what you call a runner that claims to have set themselves a weekly speed session and stuck to it first time round?
A goddamn LIAR
We’ve all been there, lying awake, tossing and turning, thinking THIS will be the week I consistently hit those 10 x 400s or 6:00 hill climbs. But who knew work would tick over into your usual training spot in the day, or that the weatherman fabricated the drizzle. The ability to hit the track may be lost, and sod repping the only hill within a 50km region with enough track to get 6 minutes of hills, when god’s vengeful loogie rains down the side of your skull.
Your motivation is high, but your enthusiasm is lost. You feel frustrated that you’ve halted the previous weeks of consistency, you opt for a quick shuffle around the block or don’t bother entirely. It’s all or nothing right?
What we need my friend, is a contingency plan.
Let your location dictate your training, rather than training dictate your location
One of the reasons we fail to stick to consistent weekly speed sessions is due to falling into the trap in believing the ONLY way to progress is to stick to what others have done, what the blog on the internet says (I see the irony…) or what a coach may tell you.
The point of the speed session is to develop and train the nervous system to quicken fast twitch fibres, increase anaerobic capacity and train the bodies ability to recruit more muscle fibres for increasingly longer durations.
Simply put, run faster for longer.
However, we aren’t trying to break speed records and road PBs, we’re attempting to create enough adaptations on the side of our regular training on the trails to complement our trail running abilities.
Find a training ground and develop training sessions around it
When a coach sets you a training session, or your 12 week downloaded training plan instructs you to do a certain training session in a certain speed, not having the location or terrain to do so can be demoralising.
For example, your training session suggests 8 x 3:00 at 5k pace, or 5 x 6:00 at 10k pace, but you live in hill country, and there is no way you can conceivably achieve that, leaving you feel dejected and unable to hit your preassigned training goals.
What you may have on your doorstep is a splendid loop which takes you up hill before coming back down, roughly in 4:00, or a series of undulating hills, all differing in length and gradients.
Okay, you’ll never hit a certain determined pace, but your effort is the same and a trail runner’s race is never often without hills. Learning to run quick over variable terrains and elevations is more important than flat out speed will ever be to you.
If you learn to embrace your location for training, rather than idolising unachievable routines that don’t fit your chosen discipline, then you will gain far more from the ability to consistently create adaptations than attending the odd track session every other month.
Progression, not regression
So you’ve taken the first step into creating your consistent weekly speed session, but stagnation is still lurking in the corner, waining will power on the horizon and niggles and sores on the road ahead.
It’s not always easy to stick to a session and head out the door, not for the novice nor the elite. The key is getting out there in the first place, and sometimes, that may take some bargaining.
For the trail runner, we can break it down into 2 key weekly speed sessions, and your remaining running should consist of endurance runs and steady runs over the types of technical terrains and hills you’re likely to meet in the races you’re training for.
The speed sessions are the icing on the cake, but we wan’t to ensure there is a progression in mind. This doesn’t mean we can’t have varieties of flavours in our cake eating diet.
There are two ways in which we want to develop our fitness as trail runners, which comes in the form of two speed sessions as mentioned. Once a week should be out and out speed to develop cadence and leg turnover, and hill repeats to develop strength, build endurance and tighten up running form.
What the form of those comes in is down to you, but the key is to keep track on your decided training sessions to ensure progression over time. If you have 4 different ‘top end’ speed sessions, and 4 different hill sessions in your arsenal, you can ensure that whatever mood you’re in, you’re more likely to get out the door and log one of the speed sessions on your chosen day of session.
The contingency plan
To begin with, it could be just one session a week for you which develops into two when your body feels ready to cope with the load. The idea is to allow the body to explore faster paces over differing lengths, on both flatter surfaces on hills, replicating what we might find in a trail race. The choice of poison is yours, though not all are made equally. Exploration of each will better adapt you to the road (or trail) ahead, whilst keeping motivation high by allowing for variety.
Examples of hill sessions:
All sessions should include 10 – 20 minutes of warming up and 10 – 20 minutes warming down.
A sample of hill sessions you may choose are:
- Long hill repeats – determined by your location. Run up once to determine the length and keep the session simple, especially on the first time. Is your climb a mile in length? Half a mile? The volume should be informed by your current fitness levels and you should be honest with yourself with what is achievable to begin with. Aim for 20 – 30 minutes of hill climbing depending on the length of your hill. Eg, 3 x 10:00 or 6 x 5:00 minutes. Jog back down and repeat. Progress by adding time climbing, either by increasing the distance of your rep (if you have a tall enough hill), increase the amount of reps or increase the intensity of each rep. Aim to keep each rep a consistent effort, what feels around a 6 – 7 out of 10
- Short hill repeats – to build form, endurance and strength, look for an 8 out of 10 effort of 12 – 15 x 1:00 or 3 sets of 6 x 0:30 seconds at 9 or 10 out of 10 effort. Again, this is your session and you are are developing your trail running craft. Pick out a variety of hills with differing inclinations and terrains. Strava is a great way of checking progression and effort by creating segments of your climbs. Change it up by the hill you fancy on any given day, but whichever session you choose, attempt to do the same or more (effort, time, or reps) than you did the previous time you visited.
- Fartlek hills – Choose a series of courses with runnable undulating hills – some might be steep and short, some may be longer but less steep and more technical. Hit the hills at a hard effort around 7 or 8 out of 10 effort but run comfortable on the flatter and downhill sections. Aim for 40 – 60 minutes of running, with 10:00 minutes of warming up and down either side.
- Tempo hills – A session to develop cardiovascular fitness, strength and endurance. Like the fartlek hills session, but running at a consistent effort on the downhills and flat sections too. Aim for around 6 out of 10 effort throughout Choose loops or out and back routes between 4 – 8 miles. If you’re feeling fatigued for days after due to ’emptying the well’, you’ve gone too hard. Remember to never empty the tank over long distances in training, save it for the race!
Examples of ‘top end’ speed sessions:
All sessions should include 10 – 20 minutes of warming up and 10 – 20 minutes warming down. Remember, it is not essential for this to be pancake flat. Your route, your choice. Adapt the suggestions below to a loop or patch of road or trail that works for you. The only requirements are that you are able to move quickly, consistently over differing lengths.
- Long repeats – Determined by your location. Do you have a kilometre loop with a few lumps and bumps in a park near you? A mile or more of trail around a reservoir with differing terrains? Whatever you have around you, form your session around it. Six loops of your local park could equate to 6 x 5:00, three times around the housing estate down the road from you might end up as 3 x 8:30. Whatever it is, choose somewhere you enjoy running that allows you to run consistently at a 6 out of 10 effort for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on current fitness levels.
- Short repeats – Like the long repeats, choose an area that’s both easily accessible to you and enjoyable. Running on a busy polluted street because it’s flat is not fun. Running on a quiet but imperfect street-lit road with the odd awkward bend that’s a couple minute’s jog from your house is much more appealing, especially in winter. Can you create a loop? Is it 1:00 – 2:00 from one end of the road to the other? Let your chosen location dictate this session, and aim for 8 – 10 reps at 7 or 8 out of 10 effort.
- Progression Tempo – The unsung dark horse of training sessions. The progression tempo allows you to build slowly into a session and warm up the body’s energy and nervous systems sufficiently before hitting top end speeds towards the end of the run. Replicating how you aim to finish a race – and who doesn’t like to finish a race feeling strong. Find a loop or an out and back that you are able to build slowly into and put more effort into over time, starting at a 2 – 3 out of 10 effort, finishing around an 8 or 9 out of 10, or whatever you’ve got on that given day. Do your splits show up and down paces, not perfectly getting quicker and quicker each mile? So what! You’re not on a track, ignore the splits and attempt to move through the gears at each mile. Ever been told to ‘run on feel’? Well this is that, ignore your watch, or use it as a training aid at the least, and build your pace on feel. Aim for 4 – 8 miles depending on current fitness levels.
- Tempo run – A classic run for those lacking in the mental capacity or time for anything more, the tempo is a great session for burning stress and energy, whilst getting a good workout for the lungs and legs too. Look for a series of loops or out and backs that you can rotate and aim for 20 – 40 minutes at 6 – 7 out of 10 effort, depending on current fitness levels. Again, Strava is a great way of tracking effort and progression over time, being able to show if you are both ‘trending faster’ and your ‘relative effort’.
So what do I choose and when?
So long as you are consistently running at differing speeds, alternating elevations and various terrains, you are opening your body up to creating the adaptations to progress your running. This is not a race specific method of training, but the application of the rules can still be applied.
Perhaps you are training for a longer distance race, or a series of shorter 10k races, the methods still apply! If you have the variety and options at your disposal on the day of your training session, and you can apply them to the location you’re in, then you are more likely to consistently hit your training targets and reach your goals.
Your training is a part of you and who you are as a runner, your training ground is a reflection of the runner you are too. We are not one size fits all, and there’s no one way of developing fitness for the trails. The importance of certain sessions always lose out to the pure enjoyment of running, and if you can enjoy the process of crafting your trail running abilities, then you are far more likely to stick to a series of training sessions that suit you.
Strength and conditioning, rest days, recovery miles, endurance and long runs form the basis of your training and develop the engine and chassis frame. The speed work, whatever form it comes in for you, is polishing the car and finding the ability to shift up a gear.