Guides

From Road to Trail: An 8-Week Training Plan for a 10K Trail Run

If you mostly run roads, it can be intimidating to go from road running to the trail, but adding trails to your run will provide countless benefits for your running form and enjoyment of the sport.

by Running Coach Lisa Menninger

Lisa has worked with hundreds of people of all ages for the past 20 years as a coach, trainer and corporate speaker. As an elite athlete, Lisa competed in running and cycling, and was a pro duathlete. A veteran of 37 marathons and ultra marathons with many top 5 finishes, Lisa also ran the 2nd fastest 50K time for a woman in the US in 2006. Visit her website

Flat. Concrete. That would best describe the running surface where I ran for the better part of a decade and a half. I lived just outside the city of Chicago and our idea of a “trail” was either crushed limestone or a blacktop bike trail. Our idea of a hill was an overpass. Really. You could run the single-track mountain bike trails but you would probably get run over.

Far out in the western part of the state there were actual trails, which I found when I ran the Rock Cut State Park 3-Day Trail Series. 10k Friday night. 25k Saturday. 50K Sunday. Those were honest to goodness trails with honest to goodness hills. Or so I thought. Then I moved to Utah just over three years ago. During my first weeks in Utah I ran a trail in Millcreek Canyon with my son and promptly face-planted. Hard. I was now a trail runner.

If you mostly run roads, it can be intimidating to go from road running to the trail, but adding trails to your run will provide countless benefits for your running form and enjoyment of the sport.

Here is a way to incorporate trail running in to your road running and get you to the 10k trail run distance.

10K Trail Run

Key Points Before you Start:

Choose the right trail.
Road runners have definite concerns with what kind of trail, how far to go and what to look for in those first few runs. I recommend you find a relatively flat, easy trail to start. Don’t go out and gain 2000 feet in your first trail run. It won’t help you love the trail if you feel terrible the entire time, and finish exhausted and sore (because what goes up must come down and downhill running is hard on the body). Find great trail run options here, or ask for recommendations from your local running store.

Ease yourself in.
Don’t do your longest scheduled run of the week on a trail. Start with a shorter run. This will allow you to try-out the trail and decide if you would like to a) do it again and b) go a bit longer. Like anything else, it is best if you ease yourself in to the process. If you decide you like it you can begin to do it more often, for longer distances and on more technical segments.

It’s okay to fall.
The Dreaded Face-Plant. Just accept it. It is going to happen. It’s ok. You will get up and keep going… after you look around to see who saw you. It’s an occupational hazard of trail running. What causes this issue for most people is that in an effort to be consciously aware of their footing and any technical parts of the trail, people run carefully. They slow down substantially from their normal pace and the feet stay low to the ground. One larger rock in your path that you didn’t happen to see and you trip. The best way to avoid the face-plant is to be mindful of your form. Push-off as you normally do and don’t intentionally slow yourself down . You will run trail more slowly due to the elevation and/or the technical elements, Try to avoid creating that by slowing way down on purpose.

Find the flow.
Use good form – run tall and keep the body aligned without pitching at the waist, feet under you . Be mindful of what is ahead of you on the trail without over-focusing and creating “careful” running.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I Get Slower If I Trail Run? Well that depends. You can gain great strength and efficiency running trails. Yes, you will probably run slower on the trail than the road. But you are often climbing and descending, changing up power and speed. This can be
beneficial for the runner who goes out on the road, locks in to pace and stays there. That variation plus the power demands for climbing can be helpful. I recommend my trail runners run the roads for speed work and my road runners run the trail for strength and form.

Do I need specific gear? In a word, yes. Particularly if you plan to run trails often. Start with your road shoe for your first few times to see if you want to stick with the trail running. If you find you love it, then it’s best to have a trail shoe. Trail shoes have features designed specifically for trail running, such as a rock plate, water resistant liners, and deeper tread. Many trails have substantial rocky segments and terrain. The regular road shoe sole will not protect the bottom of your foot from sharp, plentiful rocks nor do they protect your feet from rain, puddles or creek crossings. If these things are a part of the trails you run, it’s best to have a shoe that will both keep the foot drier and will dry more quickly when wet. You need a toe plate to protect the foot from roots and rocks you can hit on the trail. The deeper tread is a major component of a trail shoe. The traction you need and get from a trail shoe is significantly different than a road shoe. Finally, fit is very important. Your local running specialty store can go through the many makes and models to find one that best suits your trail running needs and fits correctly.

It is important to stay hydrated on your trail run. There are several kinds of hydration systems out there from hand-held bottles, to bottle belts, to hydration packs you wear on your back. Everyone has a different preference and comfort level. It’s best to head to your local running specialty store, talk directlly with folks who can explain the features of each and choose a system that works best for your needs.

Are There Benefits To Trail Running? Trail running can improve your efficiency. Your turnover can increase. You may adapt to a more vertical foot strike to accommodate the technical elements, which can increase the power of the push off when you run the roads. And it’s BEAUTIFUL. That is perhaps the most important benefit. You put your feet to the terra firma and GO. You are surrounded by nature, beautiful vistas, wonderful smells, fresh air and a feeling of peace with your environment. Trail running is good for heart and sole.

8 Week to a 10K Distance on the Trail 

This schedule assumes you can run 3-4 miles on the road and run 3x a week. It is a conservative schedule but it serves as ground work for you to get used to the trail and add miles as you go.


WEEK 1

#1 – 3 road miles – warm up at least a mile then gently pick up the pace for 20 seconds. Back to an easy jog for 20 seconds. Repeat 6-8x. Easy for the rest of the run.

#2 – 3 easy trail run

#3 – 4 easy road miles

WEEK 2:

#1 – 3-4 road miles – warm up at least a mile then gently pick up the pace for 45 seconds. Back to an easy jog for 45 seconds. Easy for the rest of the run.

#2 – 3 easy trail miles

#3 – 5 easy road miles

WEEK 3:

#1 – 3 road miles – run your second mile alternating 20 sec a bit faster/40 seconds easy for the third mile. Last mile easy recovery pace.

#2 – 4 trail miles. Change up the trail and try one that is a bit more challenging but still very manageable.

#3 – 5 miles on the road. 4 easy and pick up the last one a bit.

WEEK 4: REST WEEK

#1 – 3 easy road miles

#2 – 3 easy trail miles

#3 – 4 easy road miles

WEEK 5:

#1 – 3-4 road miles – warm up at least a mile then run 1 min at a faster pace, followed by 1 min easy recovery jog. Repeat 6-8x. Easy for the rest of the run.

#2 – 4 mile easy trail run

#3 – 6 easy road miles

WEEK 6:

#1 – 4 road miles – warm up at least a mile, then run 2 miles picking up the pace a bit for 20 seconds, back to an easy jog for 40 seconds. Do this for 2 miles in the 4 mile run.

#2 – 5 easy trail run

#3 – 4 easy road miles

WEEK 7:

#1 – 3 road miles – two easy then run the last mile a bit faster but not a hard effort. Walk to cool down.

#2 – 5 mile trail run, easy pace

#3 – 6 easy road miles

WEEK 8:

#1 – 4 road miles – warm up at least a mile then pick up the pace for 2 minutes, moderate effort. Back to a very easy recovery jog for 2 min. Repeat 4-6x.

#2 – 6 easy trail miles! You completed the distance!!!

#3 – 4-5 easy road miles


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