How to Build Trail Running Endurance

How to Build Trail Running Endurance

If your goal is to run farther, then you just increase your mileage, right? Turns out it’s not quite that simple. Trail runners looking to go longer can improve overall endurance by adding targeted workouts into a weekly training program. The good news is that just a few small tweaks every week will do the trick. 

In order to train properly, and avoid injury, it’s crucial to ease into any increases in mileage or big changes in a training program. Here we’ll break down what endurance is, what it takes to build it, and provide a sample plan of how to do just that. 

What Does Endurance Mean?

Simply put, endurance is the ability to exert yourself for an extended period of time and withstand fatigue. Endurance training, whether you’re targeting a 10-miler with friends or a 100-mile ultra, relies on improving your running economy, or the amount of energy that’s required to run a certain pace. The goal is to run farther and faster without it actually feeling like you’re working harder. 

How Do You Build Endurance?

Building endurance requires looking at the whole picture, so you’ll target the entire body each week with a mix of normal runs, strength workouts, hill repeats, intervals, and rest. 

It’s key with any program like this is to approach it with humility. It can be tempting to run farther or lift more or push it harder, but if this is new to you you’ll need to give your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones time to adjust. Doing too much too soon is one of the main causes of injuries. Plus, if you overdo it, it’s not going to be a sustainable program, and for this to work you’ll need to be consistent. 

This program targets the mind as well because doing harder workouts requires mental energy. Even if you’re dreading it, can you motivate yourself to do it anyway? Developing this kind of resiliency and ability to push through low points pays dividends when doing long runs or races. 

Here are the building blocks for endurance training for trail running: 

  • Speed: In order to run faster you need to run faster. Pretty groundbreaking, right? Mix faster strides into your week by adding them into the second half of an easy run. You’ll likely be able to notice yourself getting faster as you do your normal, easier runs.
  • Strength: Think about this as both preventative maintenance against injury as well as building the requisite strength you need. You’re not bodybuilding, so aim to mix in short, simple bodyweight circuits that target your core, hips, and glutes a few times a week. Exercises to do include planks, glute bridges, lateral walks with a resistance band, squats, single leg squats, and side lunges. What’s most important is that you actually do the workouts, so get in the habit of squeezing in a circuit even if you only have 10 minutes.
  • Hills: Do hill repeats at a fast pace. This is a great way to make hills feel easier during your runs and races. 
  • Easy Runs: On trails, run by effort rather than paying attention to the pace your watch spits out (better yet, leave your watch at home). On an easy run you should be able to hold a conversation. 
  • Long Runs: This is all about time on your feet, and training your mind and your stomach. Long runs are key for training your body to deal with fatigue. 
  • Rest: Let your body recover. Sleeping, foam rolling, and good nutrition and hydration are all important.

Sample Training Plan

The mileage in this training plan will depend on your current base, so adjust it accordingly. If you're unsure, consult a running coach (or even an experienced friend). Have the discipline to only increase mileage by around 10% to 20% every two weeks (so if you’re running 20 miles total this week, in two weeks you can run 22-24 miles, and so on). 

Monday: Rest and recover.

Tuesday: Easy run with hill intervals and strength training. This looks different for everyone, but the general principle for the first part is: easy run, a set of hard running followed by a recovery slow jog, easy run. The intervals should be done a few notches below your max speed (example: run two miles easy, then 5x30 seconds hard intervals on a moderate hill followed by a two-minute recovery jog, then two miles easy). Part two: Do a simple strength training circuit.

Wednesday: Easy run.

Thursday: Tempo run and strength training. General principle: easy run, push the pace and sustain it, easy run (example: run one easy mile, increase pace to something you could hold for 45 minutes to 1 hour and maintain that pace for a few miles, then run one easy mile). Do a simple strength circuit.

Friday: Cross train or rest. Go for a swim or a bike ride, or take a mellow yoga class. 

Saturday: Easy run.

Sunday: Long run. The distance will depend on your baseline, but obviously it should be longer than your normal runs. The key is to increase your pace slightly, from easy to moderate. So if an easy run is supposed to be a conversational pace, a good measure for your long run is a pace where you’re able to speak in short sentences but not give any monologues.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.