Get faster while keeping your trail runs fun

Get faster while keeping your trail runs fun

Wherever we are the chances are someone even if it is ourselves are judging our performance. At work at school playing sports you could say life is full of judgment, which means it’s also full of that sinking feeling when you don’t live up to expectations.

Trail running, though, is a little different; it’s all about internal expectations. No one in the trail-running community is judging your speed, your clothes or even your questionable smell. However, there is still one person who can judge you  and that person is in the mirror. Listen to David Roche talk about the negative impact that self criticism can have on you potential and performance.

I’ve seen it time and time again with athletes I coach. Self-criticism sabotages their potential. The key is to remove opportunities for self-criticism from training by designing judgment-free workouts.

As a reminder, most of the time, you should run aerobically. But at least once a week (if you are running at least 15 miles per week) and up to three times a week (if you are running more than 50 miles per week), you should inject some effort into your runs—though that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be carefree and joyous.

Judgment-free workouts are designed to remove feedback on your performance, aside from how your feel. Removing those objective metrics means you cannot fail to live up to expectations (and experience the dreaded sinking feeling). These four judgment-free workouts will make you faster than ever—not that anyone is counting.


Any of these workouts can be done with uphills or on technical trails—since they are all time-based, the terrain doesn’t matter. Photo courtesy of David Roche

1. Build Running Economy

6-12 x 1 minute fast

Running economy describes how much energy it takes to run. By improving it, every pace will be easier.

If you are the type of runner who always runs the same pace, or if you are coming off of a base-building off season, these workouts should be how you get started with structured pace variation. Then, once you improve your economy, you’ll be able to get more out of the longer intervals. Do at least one set a week for a few weeks before thinking about getting more complicated.

After a warm-up (15 to 20 minutes of easy running), pick up the pace, staying relaxed and focusing on smooth, effortless speed, approximating your one-mile race pace. After a minute, step off the gas. Run easy for two minutes before kicking it up again, maintaining relaxed speed for another minute, and repeat 6 to 12 times.

Your actual pace is irrelevant. Just run for time and don’t judge.

Alternative options: 8-15 x 30 seconds fast with 90-second recovery in between. Or, 20 to 30 minutes of “diagonals”: Run fast from one corner of a football or soccer field to the diagonally opposite corner, then jog across the end zone for recovery. Run fast from that corner to the one opposite before jogging back to where you started. Your fast sections should form an “X”.


2. “Smell the Kibble”

A good way to bridge from running-economy workouts to longer efforts is to make like a puppy.

When walking my pup in the evening before dinner, I notice a pep in her step once we turn for home. Then, when the kibble is only a couple minutes away, she yanks the leash like she is auditioning for the Iditarod. You can harness this puppy power with what I call “Smell the Kibble” workouts.


If you aren’t racing the clock, you can always take detours to splash in the mud. Photo by David Roche

When you feel frisky near the end of a normal easy run, pick it up and run the last 2 to 10 minutes faster—as if there is a reward waiting at the finish, but you need to have some breath left to enjoy it.

From a training standpoint, this workout introduces your body to faster running over longer distances without any pace judgment. From a life standpoint, there are very few things more motivating than kibble, or whatever your equivalent treat is. As my pup would say, SNARF!

Alternative option: Out-and-back: Head out easy-peasy for 20 to 50 minutes, then run back faster.

3. Build VO2 max
4-8 x 3 minutes fast

Now it is time to lengthen the intervals. After a warm-up, run three minutes fast, imagining you are running a 5K (so a bit slower than economy intervals, but faster than lactate-threshold intervals). Back off for two minutes, then kick it up again.

Remember, each interval is not a race, and we don’t care about your actual pace. Instead, it is a controlled effort that you could keep up for longer if needed. If you go too fast, you won’t be working your VO2 max (you’ll be working your anaerobic threshold). And VO2 max is important because it increases your body’s oxygen-processing power.

Alternative options: 2-5 x 5 minutes fast, with 3 minutes recovery in between; or, 1/2/3/4/4/3/2/1 minutes fast with 1 minute easy between each.


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