How spending less time on the trail made me a better trail runner:
Many people ask me how they can get faster on the trails. When I tell them to get on the track or the road every now and then, they look at me like I'm crazy. I used to think it was crazy too!
When I first started trail running, I was salivating over the idea of less structure in my training . I thought the rigors and oddly ritualistic repetition required of competitive road racing would take a back seat and I would spend my hours running around in the forest, up mountains and through canyons without a care in the world. After a few weeks I realized that structure was a necessity. In fact, structure was a means for improvement, not a prison sentence.
I thought that just running on the trails would be enough. I thought things would naturally flow and fall into place. I thought if I ran more, I'd get faster. At a basic level it's true - the more you run, the faster you get. Trail running and ultrarunning has largely been this way for years. Times are different for trail and ultrarunning now. More elite runners are entering immediately following college and others are making the transition in their prime and that makes it dramatically different from years past. There's just way more speed in the sport. As money continues to flow into it, you can bet it will get even faster, too.
You need to have experience running on trails to some degree but running economy, lactate threshold and VO2max play such an important role in speed development it wouldn’t be wise to neglect them. It's evident that the faster runners are the best runners regardless of the surface that the race is on. Yes, there are exceptions, but in general speed is king.
Adding Speed work, pick-ups, turnovers and strides and barefoot strides to my arsenal has vastly improved my running economy and my speed. Prior to adding those elements, my usual training would consist of obnoxiously slow easy runs, a half-assed speed or vo2 max session and a long run. My paces would change rarely, if ever. I underestimated the benefits of an improved running form, improved speed and overall economy.
Adding these elements made me faster on the road and trail:
Lactate Threshold Workouts
Using the above training components has dramatically improved my fitness on the roads and trails alike. The structure has improved my training, my resistance to injury and has helped me be more confident when I arrive at the starting line. A typical week for me looks like this: (This is just a sample, my training varies weekly)
8 miles EZ
PM - Gym
10 miles w/ Pick ups
10 miles w/
VO2max or LT workout
PM - 5 miles easy
PM - Gym
8 miles easy w/