How to Get Fit for your Trail Running Holiday

By Damian Hall

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A trail running holiday is a wonderful thing, and the fitter you are, the more likely you are to enjoy it. But how fit do you need to be to run upwards of 10 miles a day for several consecutive days?

You certainly don’t need to be some super-athlete who runs 200-mile weeks in training. There’s nothing stopping you from walking long sections of any trail, time permitting. It is after all a holiday, not a race. “If you’ve done an ultramarathon, you’re likely to be fit enough,” says Ian Sharman, the US-based, British online coach and professional ultra-runner. “Or if you’ve done a few marathons. Even if you’ve only recently completed your first marathon, but didn’t suffer any injuries, you’re probably in decent enough shape.”

If you currently run about 30 miles a week, then that’s maybe not quite enough to prepare for a week-long trail-running holiday, says Ian. “Try bumping that up a little, and try some back-to-back long runs – perhaps 10-15 miles on a Saturday and again on a Sunday. But make sure you take the time to recover afterwards, sleep well, foam roll and take Monday off running.”

In training for a trail-running holiday or a multi-stage (i.e. multi-day) ultramarathon, it’s always important to build up weekly mileage gradually, at around 10 percent at a time. “The most important run you’ll do is the long run, which can be as slow as you like,” says Ian. “Also, run on trails, rather than roads, as much as possible. You’re less likely to get injured from softer terrain and the different surfaces will build more strength, because more muscles will be utilised for balance. Trail running is much more of a full body workout.”

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Do you need to do any speed training? It’s a good idea if you’re preparing for a multi-stage ultramarathon, but not necessarily for a trail running holiday. “It depends what you want from the holiday,” says Ian. “If you’re attempting an FKT (Fastest Known Time) or using the trail-running holiday as preparation for a multi-stage race – and it’s excellent training for any ultramarathon – then some speed work makes good sense.”

If you’re not used to running fast, start with progression runs (runs that get gradually faster), fartlek runs (normal runs which include bursts of speed) and tempo runs (close to race pace). Interval runs (short sprints) are more likely to cause injury in those who aren’t used to running fast.

“Get some variety into your running, with different speeds, distances and terrains. That’s a good idea for anyone anyway,” says Ian. “It helps keep things fresh and enjoyable. Where possible try to run on terrain similar to the trail your holiday will be on, to get the mind and body accustomed. And if you’re not used to running on hills, then it’s time to introduce yourself to them. They’re great for building strength too.”

The fitter a runner is before the trip, the more chance they can enjoy a comfy pace and not feel exhausted. “However, for someone running lower mileage, it’s still very feasible to get all the benefits of this type of trip. I wouldn’t recommend running more than twice the normal weekly mileage on a trail running holiday. But that also depends on how rugged and tough the terrain is. Not all miles are equal.”

When on a trail running holiday, Ian rates foam rolling as more important than stretching. “You don’t need to be a super-flexible yoga person, but you do need a full range of motion, so if you feel rigid, it’s worth stretching. Foam rolling (and massage) however is one of the best ways to avoid injury, undoing any deeper knots and releasing tight fascia.”
And what about the mental approach? “Just don’t take it too seriously. Go and enjoy it. Try and take in the scenery and take photos. When you’re racing, you often miss all that. Ideally go into the holiday with some decent fitness and no injuries, so you enjoy it and then feel fitter and stronger a few weeks after the trip.”

Who is Ian Sharman?

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Ian is a USATF-certified coach, Head Coach at, a professional ultramarathon runner for Altra Running and has run over 200 ultramarathons and marathons. Ian’s won Leadville Trail 100, Rocky Raccoon 100, has the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and has finished in the Western States top-ten seven consecutive times.

Originally published 24/04/17

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