4 Expert Tips You Need To Know When Planning Your Race Season

A good thing about trail and fell running is that there are lots of races to choose from all year round. Whilst the championship fell races are run between March and September there are also numerous races that take place in the winter months. Whilst this give runners an opportunity to race all year long rather than just in a “race season” it poses the problem of knowing which races to take part and how to structure their training over the year. There is also the temptation to do too much racing and end up fatigued or injured. Planning the season and working with a coach to help tailor the training accordingly can help a runner improve and get more from their trail and fell season.

When advising runners about their training I ask them to look at the race calendar for the year ahead and identify some key races. This means choosing four to six races spread across the year that they really want to do well in. This then allows us to draw up a training plan specifically targeting the demands of those races. It doesn’t mean that they only do those races, they might include others but these would be done as part of the training rather than as a key race.

Lots of runners could benefit from help with structuring their training. They may know that they should include different types of training runs but they aren’t sure of exactly what to do, how hard to run and how often. With lots of terminology around; hill reps, fartleks, intervals, long runs, tempo runs, threshold runs, VO2 max training… it can all get a bit confusing! This often means that runners stick with what they know and end up doing the same type of runs week in week out rather than adapting their training to meet the demands of their upcoming races. A mistake many runners make is thinking that their training needs to be mostly high intensity in order for them to improve, but this isn’t sustainable and can lead to fatigue and injury. Sometimes when I start coaching runners I ask them to do less hard running rather than more!


So what things should a trail or fell runner take into consideration when planning their training?


Elite runners don’t do the same training day after day, week after week, month after month. Rather, their training goes through different phases or blocks based around their season and their upcoming races. Recreational runners should do the same, but also apply this to their overall fitness and experience. Too often runners want to do hard intervals before they have developed a solid base of aerobic fitness. A “hill rep suffer fest” gets you more kudos on Strava than a 2 hour easy run! 

There are 4 key phases that I incorporate into training plans:

Base Building – this focuses on easy running, building the runner’s ability to tolerate several hours of running per week and gradually increasing the duration of the long run. As mentioned, runners sometimes want to skip this type of training in favour of the more exciting, harder sessions, but having a strong aerobic base is vital. Think of it as the solid foundations on which to build the rest of your training.

Speed Endurance – this doesn’t mean increasing flat out speed it means being able to maintain a slightly faster pace for longer. For example if a runner can run a 10k in 45 minutes then I would expect that they could run 1km in 4 minutes, but they wouldn’t be able to keep going at that pace for a further 9km. By doing some training at a specific pace or intensity we can work on improving a runner’s ability to hold a given pace for longer.

Hill Training – this is essential for many trail races and arguably all fell races. If you want to do well in hilly races you need to train to get good at running both up and down hill and on uneven terrain. However you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) do all of your training on hills.

Recovery – this is often overlooked with runners thinking that they need to train hard all the time. We need to include recovery to allow our bodies to react and adapt to the stimulus of training so it is important to include easier phases periodically, especially after hard races or hard training blocks.

These phases will be different for different runners based on their current level of fitness, their upcoming races and other factors such as the amount of time they have available to train each week. It would also take into account what their strengths and weaknesses are; someone who is very strong on the hills might benefit from focusing more on developing their speed rather than doing more hill work. “Off the shelf” training plans seldom take these factors into account whereas an experienced coach can tailor a runner’s training more effectively. There is no right way to include these phases into a plan, but it is important not to neglect any one type of training for too long so I tend to cycle through the phases. Sometimes the upcoming races will dictate the amount of time spent in each training block.


The type of training needs to reflect the specific demands of the race that a runner is training for. So for example if you are training for a very hilly 20 mile trail race you need to train both for the long distance and for the amount of ascent and descent. Just doing short interval training at the track every week won’t stimulate your body to adapt to the type of stresses that it will encounter during the race.

It makes sense to include more race specific training the closer you get to a race. For example you don’t need to be doing lots of very long hilly runs 6 months before a long hilly race, it would be better to develop speed and hill strength in this period before focusing on the more race specific runs closer to the race.


Weeks and months (and even years) of consistent training with good habits - lots of easy miles and a few harder sessions, recovery after fatiguing training and races - is key. This long term consistency beats a couple of weeks of “hero sessions” where a runner trains to exhaustion. There are no quick fixes or hacks!

There is also no need to over complicate things, sometimes more information is less helpful than keeping things simple. Take terminology for example, several runners that I coach have asked me about what “zone” they should be training in. Zones are arbitrary limits usually set when you input your age whilst setting up your watch. Often they don’t accurately reflect your individual physiology and can actually be misleading! I prefer to use terms that a runner understands, for example: Easy runs should be done at a pace where you could chat and run. Hard intervals done at short race effort. 

Consider a Coach

Rather than doing the same type of training all year long, identifying key races and putting them in a calendar allows runners to look at the season as a whole and structure their training accordingly. A coach can help with drawing up a plan to train specifically for the demands of each race, taking into account a runner’s individual fitness, experience, strengths and circumstances.

About the author


Dave Taylor is an experienced fell runner and running coach and has been English Fell Running Champion for the V50 age category.

He offers individual coaching sessions and training plans: www.fellrunningguide.co.uk 

1 comment

  • Joanne

    I,ve got a couple of 10k races coming up and a half marathon how should j go about training

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