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A 12-Week Training Plan To Prepare You For Breakthroughs

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Soooooo … 2020. Let’s just forget that it happened, OK? For me, the main silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was realizing that cutting my own hair since I was a kid was preparedness training the whole time. I looked like a scrub for a couple decades, but starting in June 2020 or so, I looked a bit better by comparison. And similar to running speed when being chased by a bear, you don’t need to be the best at cutting your own hair, you just don’t want to be the worst.

For most athletes, training and racing was a write-off. Some people thrived with extra time to dedicate to their long-term goals. But way more of us just got by day-to-day, putting one foot in front of the other toward a horizon that seemed to move farther and farther away. If that describes your athletic journey in 2020, you’re in a perfect spot to refocus now. Vaccines are coming, races are opening registrations, our hair is growing out. Let’s do this!

This plan is geared toward an athlete that is doing some running, just without a coach. They’re doing some faster running, with no substantial structure. They have big goals in the upcoming year; those goals are just a few months or more away.

The pandemic forms the backdrop of this training plan, but the same principles can apply anytime. This plan is geared toward an athlete that is doing some running, just without a coach. They’re doing some faster running, with no substantial structure. They have big goals in the upcoming year; those goals are just a few months or more away. This plan is about setting up the framework for big breakthroughs later. 

RELATED:8-Week Road Marathon Training Plan For Trail Runners

Starting point: 10 to 30 miles per week. If you haven’t been running at all, aim to do four or five easy runs per week mixed with optional cross training for a few weeks before jumping in.

Ending point: 30 to 75 miles per week, ready to do specific training for any race from a road mile to a 100-mile ultramarathon

Audience: Moderately experienced to very experienced runners, of all speeds. In the final few weeks, there are some advanced training components like doubles and combo workouts, just to show athletes how that might look. Here is a plan for training for your first trail race half-marathon and below.

Goals and Methods: Training plans geared at a specific race sometimes miss the most important part of year-over-year growth—breakthroughs are earned in the long-term grind. This 12-week plan is about establishing a sustainable long-term grind that lays the groundwork for more specific training later.

The methods are based on an adaptation of classic training principles from legendary coaches like Arthur Lydiard and Renato Canova, mixed with data my wife/co-coach Megan and I have gathered from working with athletes ranging from beginners to pros over the years. Ideally athletes have a solid aerobic base before starting, with the first few weeks emphasizing continued base building with high-output strides to improve running economy via neuromuscular and biomechanical adaptations.

Next, hill intervals improve musculoskeletal strength, along with some aerobic-capacity improvements, mixed with continued volume increases for low-level aerobic development. Finally, flatter/rolling speedwork and tempo running puts it all together to improve the velocity or power output an athlete can sustain at different effort levels.

RELATED:A Training Plan To Run 100 Miles

The methods are based on an adaptation of classic training principles from legendary coaches like Arthur Lydiard and Renato Canova, mixed with data my wife/co-coach Megan and I have gathered from working with athletes ranging from beginners to pros over the years.

At the end of the plan, an athlete should be well-developed at output at VO2 max, lactate threshold, and aerobic threshold, providing a well-rounded starting point to target shorter events with intense speedwork or longer events with specific long runs. The strength work supports healthy and efficient running, and the cross training provides additional aerobic development with reduced injury risk.

Things to know:

• Each day is given as a range of miles, with the design being to stay at the low, middle or high end without going back and forth too much week to week. Start at the lower end of the range unless you have done higher mileage in the past.

• Be careful increasing mileage, and always rest or x-train at the first sign of injury.

• You can use run/walk strategies to do the designated mileage. And when that’s not possible, remember a five-minute run counts too.

• All of the numbers in the plan are general guidelines, rather than specific rules. Mix it up to fit your life and background.

• If you do not currently do upper body work, read this article and spend a couple of minutes on it a day through push-ups and/or chin-ups.

• Thursdays and Sundays can be adventure flex days if you like to do winter sports or other activities.

• Do light rolling/massage and optional light stretching daily, and make sure you’re always eating enough food.

• The plan is designed for an athlete that wants to optimize their potential, but no single day is too important. Prioritize happiness and health above all else. Before starting any new routine, talk with a doctor or medical professional. This is not specific coaching advice for your individual history, but a general template to help you design your own plan. It’s always best to work one-on-one with a coach.

• You are loved and you are enough, just as you are, always. Not directly related to the plan, but an important background principle.

Key resources:

4-Minute Wake-Up Legs warm-up routine (before all runs)

3-Minute Mountain Legs strength routine (when noted). Important: when “Mtn legs” is in bold, you can do the Speed Legs routine below if you need more strength work.

8-Minute Speed Legs strength routine (when noted)

Upper body strength recommendations (do every day)

Terminology:

Rest days: you can be active, but no pounding on your legs. Rest day routine article

Easy runs: relaxed and effortless, but can progress to steady running when you feel good as long as it’s not every easy run.

Aerobic build week: semi-structured week with aerobic emphasis

Cross training: bike, elliptical, swim or hike ideal. Cross-training article

Hill Strides: powerfully efficient on moderate grade. Hill strides tutorial article

Tempo runs: around 1-hour effort, relaxed and not too hard

Combo Workouts: multiple intensity-related stimuli in a single workout

Download a printable PDF of the plan here!

After completing the plan, you’re ready to jump into specific training for any race or event. 2021 is going to be the best year ever!

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.