For the avid road runner, trail running is often considered the next frontier. Trails provide an escape and a beauty that not only allows you to get your run in, but also cleanses the soul. Along with the trail’s treasures are new challenges for the road warrior: Terrain can be tricky to navigate, elevation changes are likely more drastic, and climbs and descents don’t compare to the roads. Trail newbies often need to ignore pace— forget hitting certain minutes per mile—and focus on effort instead.
If you are a pavement-pounding runner hearing the call of the trails, this is the plan for you. Although this training requires no prior off-road experience, there are a few prerequisites before you dive in and get dirty. You should have a base of at least 12 weeks of running under your belt and be able to comfortably complete a 3- to 4-mile run. Experience with some faster-paced running (like speed work) is helpful, but not crucial.
This plan introduces on-roaders to trail running and racing, hitting three trail races within the 10 weeks and peaking with a 15K—when you will feel trail-tested and tough. Two to three times a week, find a wooded trail, dirt path or other less sure-footed surface to run on. Easy and long runs are your best options (keep speedy runs on a more stable surface).
Adapt the plan to your individual preferences and experience level. Although designed for the beginner, a more seasoned runner can add miles or repeats to make it suitable for a higher fitness level. Runners new to fartleks and tempo runs can alternate the workouts week to week, rather than doing both each week. Just switch one workout to an easy run.