Trail Tips

From Zero to Trail Hero: Part 2

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Welcome to Part 2 of Zero to Trail Hero. Now is when things ease onward gently. The most important part of this process is to not force it—as is often our natural inclination.


Jean Michel-Soulet finds his stride high in the Sea to Sky alpine with views of Backcomb Mountain in the background.

1. Run slowly at first and walk when you need to.

The most common mistake for runners starting out for the first time or after a layoff is running too fast. Since the goal is to strengthen the musculoskeletal system and achieve low-level aerobic adaptations, almost no pace is too slow. A good place to start is to use running form at speed-walking pace, where you can hold conversations comfortably. Only go a bit faster if that feels easy and stress-free. If you find yourself struggling at those paces, use walk breaks starting at a 1:1 run:walk ratio, and moving to 10:1 as you adapt.

Do lots of little runs, which add up to something big over time.

When running, focus on short, soft strides and high turnover. The goal is to have a quick cadence, rather than longer strides. This technique limits impact forces and is more efficient for most runners.

2. Start by running every other day, then progress to five or six days per week.

The second-most common mistake is running too much, which can cause injuries rapidly. Instead, do lots of little runs, which add up to something big over time. The first bricks in your running wall can be relatively small—10-to-20-minute runs are a great place to begin.

Until you are sure your body is absorbing all of the training, run every other day, then progress to five or six days a week before increasing the duration of runs. As you adapt over the course of several months, you can increase the length of runs progressively until you are doing an hour of running five to six times per week. At that point, you’ll be ready for more advanced training to get fast.

3. Add short hills to strengthen your legs and lungs.

The old saying goes that hills are speedwork in disguise. Indeed, they are a great way to prepare your body to go faster. After you’ve built up to five days of running each week, start to do those runs over hills. This serves two purposes.

First, uphills will increase respiratory rate, stressing the aerobic system and forcing positive adaptations. Second, they’ll require more power output, strengthening the muscles in your legs. When your daily run feels like a breeze, you can add four to eight 20- or 30-second hill intervals, where you run hard up a moderate grade, focused on good form, and then jog back down. These little bouts of work are low-impact, expand cardiac stroke output and strengthen all the little muscles and joints involved in transmitting power from your foot to forward motion.

A related benefit to hill repeats is that running downhill can increase impact forces by over 50 percent, and running them slowly at first can provide a safe introduction to the pounding of faster running.

Everyday Strength

While consistent easy running is the most important step in getting started, simple strength work can make you more resilient and faster later on. Find a five- to 10-minute routine that you can do almost every day, like this one.

1. Forward lunges 10 on both legs

2. Side lunges 10 on both legs

3. Rear lunges 10 on both legs

4. Single-leg step-ups 50 on both legs

5. Leg swings 10 front-to-back and 10 side-to-side

6. Push-ups To fatigue (rather than failure)

7. Planks Two-minute front plank

8. Light stretching of your hamstrings, quadriceps and calves

A Sample Week After Building Consistency

After a period of easy, consistent running and slowly building up volume and distance, including some runs over hills, you can step up your training game.

Monday: Rest and recovery

Tuesday: 1 hour easy over hills   

Wednesday: 20 minutes easy, 6 x 30-second hills moderately hard (run down recovery between each interval), 20 minutes easy 

Thursday:1 hour easy

Friday: Rest or 30 minutes easy

Saturday: 1 hour easy over hills

Sunday: 20 minutes easy, 6 x 30-second hills, 20 minutes easy

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play