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How To Improve At Trail Running

Eventually, you’ll begin to progress from the beginner stage of trail running and move on to bigger goals. These can include things like running farther or faster, or completing your very first trail race or ultra.

To help you begin this process and improve your overall fitness and technique on the trail, here are some more advanced tips to consider.

How to Improve and Adjust Your Training

While trail running is technically still running, it’s a different sport than road running and racing. This means that if you’re looking at the performance side of things, you’ll need to take a slightly different approach to your training routine.

Here are a few adjustments you can make to your current trail running workouts to help you run farther and faster:

Hill intervals

Almost all trails and trail races will force you to climb. Improving your technique and fitness on hills is one area most runners can make big improvements. Including hill repeats is a necessary evil if you want to get better at.

To get started, pick a moderate hill on one of your current routes. Try to find a section that’s technical and has a moderate gradient that forces you to make decisions. Focus on the uphill section five times and walk down. Follow this by walking to the top five times and running down. This will not only improve your fitness but also boost your confidence to handle technical terrain safely.

Go farther

Sometimes training can be simple. If you want to boost your cardio, one way to do is to simply go farther. Set a goal to just go one more mile, alternating walking and running if needed.

Remember, the goal isn’t speed or technique in this session—all you need to focus on is running more than you usually do. Do this once per week and eventually you’ll build toward a distance you wouldn’t have thought you could complete a few months before.

Work on your technique

Form is a big part of trail running, and it can be quite different from the form you use on the road. When running uphill, you’ll want to lean forward slightly and place your weight over the balls of your feet. Exaggerating your arm swing a bit more will also help you carry your momentum and improve your balance over rocks and uneven terrain.

For downhills, get used to scanning about 10 to 15 feet ahead of you. This will help you pick a good line well before you’re in that section. Keep your steps light and short, as a quicker turnover is more efficient and much safer than long, lunging steps.

Avoid leaning back too much, as it can stop your momentum and burn out your quadriceps, and focus on an upright posture when heading downhill to improve your efficiency.


Improving your balance and strength will help you run more efficiently on the trail while allowing you to adjust on the fly to changes in terrain. Getting stronger can also help you power up hills a bit easier and speed up your cadence.

Plyometric exercises like jumping lunges and squats and box jumps are excellent additions to a strength training routine to improve agility, balance, and power.

When to Sign Up for a Trail Race

How To Improve At Trail Running

Maybe you’re nervous about running your first trail race, or perhaps you’re thinking about trying an ultra but aren’t sure if you’re ready.

The truth is there is no perfect time, and you probably won’t be sure if you’re ready until you give it a try. Of course, you can prepare by training yourself physically and psychologically as much as possible to endure the challenge. But part of the fun is in the not knowing. The questions you’ll have such as Will I be able to make it? Have I prepared enough? are a big part in what makes trail racing fun and exciting.

Aside from embracing this personal challenge, here are a few guidelines you can go by to help you determine if you’re ready or not:

  • Does your training mileage match your race distance?

    While you don’t necessarily have to run the exact distance during training, you should be approaching your race distance. Having a new distance to reach for on race day can be motivating, but it shouldn’t be so far away that the goal is unreasonable. Increasing mileage drastically will also lead to injury.

  • How much elevation change is there?

    If you have a specific race in mind, take a look at the elevation change and altitude. You’ll want you training runs to be similar so that your muscles and cardiovascular system are ready for the challenge.

  • Are you training consistently?

    Runners will have peaks and valleys during training. But staying consistent week after week without extended breaks is a good sign you’re ready for a race.

  • Are you motivated?

    We all find inspiration from different places. If you’re motivated to conquer a new distance, and the training is just as important to you as the race itself, then you’re probably in the right frame of mind.

Athlete Tips From Runner Michael Wardian

“I think that as runners look for new adventures and challenges, trail running offers an incredible avenue and should be considered. To train, I would suggest trying to get in runs that mimic the trail race you’re signing up for. This will let you know what it feels like to run 1,000 feet uphill in a single push, or how to manage not getting water every few miles.”

“I also recommend testing out trail shoes, hydration vests or bottles and headlamps beforehand so you know how everything works. It’s one less thing to be worried about on race day.”

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