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5k and 10k Trail Running Training Plans

If you think hiking on trails is a blast, just wait until you start running on them. And we’re not talking about that 5-second run chasing your kid or dog if they start heading off into the trees. We’re talking about a bonafide 5K or 10K run through the ups, downs and sideways paths of Mother Nature.

The best way to ensure your trail running is successful is to properly prep for the adventure. Your goal is to work up to the point where a 5k or 10k trail run is doable. By doable, we mean it won’t:

  • Make you keel over in agony.
  • Make you drop the F-bomb more than once.
  • Make you wish you had never taken up running in the first place.

OK, you still may drop the F-bomb. Running in general tends to do that to people. But when you ace the trail race and cross the finish line, all the sweat, swears and tears will be worth it. To get to that point, you need a training plan.

While there’s a massive range of options when it comes to training for a 5k or 10k trail run, most training schedules include several standard elements:

  • A physical assessment before you begin
  • Warmup before the run, cooldown and stretching after the run
  • A variety of running speeds, from faster tempo runs to easy runs at a comfortable pace
  • A variety of landscapes, from flat ground to uneven terrain
  • Cross-training, which typically includes strength training and endurance training
  • Recovery time, with rest days and active rest days built into the plan

On active rest days, you want to engage in activities that move your muscles without interfering with the recovery process. These can include stretching sessions, foam-rolling sessions, gentle yoga or light walking.

On rest days, you want to give your body a total break, essential for avoiding injury.

Initial Physical Assessment

Even if you ran a marathon three years ago or after your kid or dog three minutes ago, you want to do a physical assessment before you start any type of training program. This can help you assess your overall fitness level, so you know how hard you can go without injury or fatigue.

Consulting with a doctor is also a good idea before starting any training plan. That way they can give you an official green light to proceed.

In general, the more active you’ve been, the easier it will be to get into running. Additional factors that affect how quickly your training will go include:

  • Age: Running can be enjoyed by people of any age. Just keep in mind that younger bodies can adapt to exercise faster.
  • Occupation: If your job entails moving around or doing manual labor, you may have an easier time getting into running than if you sit at a desk all day.
  • Body shape and weight: Being lean in body mass may make it easier to get into running, although other body shapes and weights can still train and run.
  • Medical history: Anyone with a history of medical issues should get that green light from their doctor before starting a training program.
  • Heart rate: Your resting heart rate can be a good indicator of how fit you are to begin with. For the record, an experienced trail runner with a long history of running may have a resting heart rate of 45 to 50 beats per minute (bpm). Someone who doesn’t exercise all that often may have a resting heart rate of around 85 to 95 bpm.

Here’s a general rundown on average resting heart rates for different fitness levels:

  • 80 to 100 bpm: Fitness could be improved
  • 70 to 80 bpm: Average fitness level
  • 50 to 70 bpm: Good fitness level
  • 30 to 50 bpm: Excellent fitness level

As your fitness improves with training, your resting heart rate tends to get lower. That’s because your heart has become more efficient and is able to pump more blood with each beat. It therefore needs to beat less frequently.

5k Plan

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Gearing up for a 5k trail race involves a six-week training plan. Print it out. Stick it to your fridge. Check off each day as you move forward, keeping your progress front and center for ongoing motivation and glee.

Week 1

  • Monday: Hill workout, or a run with elevation gain (aka hill run), 20 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Active rest
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 40 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 2

  • Monday: Hill run, 20 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Active rest
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 45 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 3

  • Monday: Hill run, 30 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes 
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 4

  • Monday: Hill run, 35 minutes
  • Tuesday: Easy run, 30 minutes
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 5

  • Monday: Hill run, 30 minutes
  • Tuesday: Easy run, 25 minutes
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 45 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 6

  • Monday: Easy run, 20 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 20 minutes
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Day of Trail Running Event
  • Sunday: Sleep, sleep, sleep

10k Plan

10k-trail-running-training-plan

The training plan for a 10k trail race takes 10 weeks. Since it’s longer than the six-week plan, you may want to stick it on your fridge and your office bulletin board. That way everyone at work can see how hard you’re training and offer to get your coffee or take on some of your most boring work-related tasks. We’re kidding, of course. Sort of.

Week 1

  • Monday: Hill workout, or a run with elevation gain (aka hill run), 20 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Active rest
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 40 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 2

  • Monday: Hill run, 20 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Active rest
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 45 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 3

  • Monday: Hill run, 30 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes 
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 4

  • Monday: Hill run, 35 minutes
  • Tuesday: Easy run, 30 minutes
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes 
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 5

  • Monday: Hill run, 35 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 35 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 70 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 6

  • Monday: Hill run, 45 minutes
  • Tuesday: Easy run, 40 minutes
  • Wednesday: Speed run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes 
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 80 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 7

  • Monday: Hill run, 45 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 40 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 45 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 80 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 8

  • Monday: Hill run, 60 minutes
  • Tuesday: Easy run, 45 minutes
  • Wednesday: Speed run, 25 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 45 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 80 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 9

  • Monday: Hill run, 30 minutes
  • Tuesday: Easy run, 35 minutes
  • Wednesday: Tempo run, 30 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 30 minutes 
  • Friday: Cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run, 45 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 10

  • Monday: Easy run, 20 minutes
  • Tuesday: Active rest
  • Wednesday: Easy run, 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run, 20 minutes 
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Day of Trail Running Event
  • Sunday: Sleep, sleep, sleep

Training Tips

Several tips can make your trail running training safer, more effective and more fun.

1. Monitor Heart Rate

Monitor your heart rate during your runs to make sure you’re in the target heart rate zone for that type of running. If you want to get scientific about it, calculate your maximum heart rate (HRmax) and then follow the guide below. If being scientific is not your thing, go with how easy it is to talk during the run.

  • Easy run: Conversational pace; 60 to 65% of HRmax
  • Long run: Single sentences but not conversations; 70 to 80% HRmax
  • Tempo run: Single words but not sentences; 85 to 88% HRmax
  • Speed run: Grunts but not words; 90% or higher HRmax

2. Create Pre-Run and Post-Run Routines

While you don’t have to prep for the easy runs, all other runs should include the following:

  • Warmup, 5 minutes: Butt kicks, skipping, lateral shuffles and other exercises to warm up muscles through range of movement.
  • Cooldown, 5 minutes: Slow jogging, followed by walking.
  • Stretching, 5 to 10 minutes: Static stretches concentrating on the biggest muscles with the least flexibility. 

3. Dress for the Elements

 

Just as important as proper trail running shoes is what you wear to protect yourself from the elements. Performance leggings and a long-sleeve, moisture-wicking sun protection shirt are ideal in cooler weather. A performance tank in breathable fabric, coupled with running shorts work well during hot summer days. Layer them up so you’re prepared for sudden changes in the weather.

3. Pay Attention to Nutrition and Hydration

Staying hydrated and nourished is an absolute must for your training and running success. You want to determine how much fuel and fluid you need for the best results. Consider a hydration pack for longer runs, especially if weather conditions are particularly hot.  

4. Catch Injuries Early

Don’t push through an injury. Doing so can cause more damage and take you out of the training entirely. Catch an injury early and you may be able to rest for a couple of days until it heals. A visit to your doctor can provide additional guidance.

Also know the difference between an injury and soreness. Injuries typically come with pain concentrated in a very specific area, or on just one side of your muscle. If both your calves are sore, for instance, it likely means you’re training hard – not injured. If one area of one calf hurts, it may be an injury.

5. Rest

No matter how eager you are to train, train, train, you need to take time to rest, rest, rest. Do not replace your rest days or active rest days with running. You need to rest your body between runs to help avoid repetitive strain injuries.

Run Like the Wind!

Now that you have the info you need to start your trail running training, it's time to get moving! Feel free to adapt the training schedule as needed to suit your needs, as long as you don't eliminate the much-needed days of rest. Also make sure you properly dress the part, with apparel to keep you cool, comfy, and protected from UV rays – and looking like the winner you are.  

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