Training for Multi-stage Trail Events

A form of trail running which is popular among the endurance lovers is multi-stage racing. Getting up the morning after a long trail race to get out and run all over again can be a tough physical and mental challenge. So how do you prepare for this?
The secret is doing weekly back to back long training runs. Choose two consecutive days where you have enough time to run long and do one very long run on day 1 followed by a medium long run on day2. For example, running 3 hours on Saturday, followed by 1 and a half hours on Sunday.
How long?
Take the longest day of the race and work out the amount of time you expect to take to complete the stage. This is the longest training time that you want to build up to over the training period making sure that your longest run is no less than 3 week before the event. Make the second day’s run about 75% of day 1.
How long must your first back to back be?
Start at your current longest training run. Then gradually increase this run to the maximum mentioned above by adding 10% or 2km per week. It is a good idea to reduce the distance every third week to give your body and your mind some much needed recovery time.

For example, if your longest run is currently 1 hour then follow this pattern:
Week 1: Run 1 – 1 hour, Run 2 – 45 minutes
Week 2: Run 1 – 1 hour 10 minutes, Run 2 – 55 minutes
Week 3: Run 1 – 45 minutes, Run 2 –30 minutes
Week 4: Run 1 – 1 hour 25 minutes, Run 2 – 1 hour
Continue following this pattern until you reach the maximum required for your event.
I have met many trail runners who are training both for multi stage trail events and an ultra-marathon on the road, my advice is to do the shorter long run on trail and then longer run on the road.
Next time I will share some secrets on optimal recovery between stages.

Coach Kathleen

About Coach Kathleen

As an athlete Kathleen has competed at high levels across all the running disciplines, track, road, cross country and trail running as well as internationally in triathlon. She has a personal best of 2 hours 45 min for the marathon and most recently has been part of the winning ladies team in the AfricanX trail race for the last 2 years.

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17 thoughts on “Training for Multi-stage Trail Events

  1. Thanks for the training advice! I have entered for the Namakwa Quest in August, and after a long trail running drought, I did a 10 km trail yesterday and I very quickly realised that I’ll have to step up the trail training to a significant degree.

    I have done a few marathons before, but no ultra’s. Am I in for a hell of a surprise with this stage race business?

    • Hi Philip

      The fact that you have done a few marathons counts hugely in your favour. A road marathon remains one of the most gruelling events. The distance on the trail will be easier on your body, you will however need to get used to being on your feet for long periods at a time as the distance takes much longer to cover on trail as I am sure you realised with your 10km.

      What you need to get used to is running long on consecutive days. On weekends when doubling up on the long runs – you can do 1 long trail, 1 long road. Also combining long hikes with the runs works well without straining your body too much.

      You have more than enough time to prepare for the event. The secret is to not start training too long too soon. Count back 18 weeks from the date of the race. Do 6 weeks of fitness building, then 12 weeks of specific long trail running where you do your long weekends. That will be enough, much more and you will burn out.

      Enjoy the training. Looks like an awesome event!

      Coach Kathleen

  2. Hi Coach Kathleen!
    My husband and I are training for a 3-day trail running vacation in May; each day being about 15 miles. As he only resumed running last fall and I have usually taken a rest day before and after my weekly long run, working on back-to-backs with the goal of 3 in a row has been a challenge. It’s going alright, but I feel like I’m shooting in the dark. We did 6-7-11 one “weekend.” Last weekend we did 7-14. This weekend, 10-10 sounds good. Should we work on three 10’s or longer? Or mix it up? What would a good progression be?? Thank you for any suggestion you may have.

  3. Dear Amy

    You are definitely on the right track and your progression so far is sound.
    Two back to backs is sufficient. If you add a third run – then that can be a shorter run.
    I also like to have one run longer than the other, you can then put the longer run on the day which you have more time.
    So instead of 10-10, you could do 12-8 or 14-6. Build that to 15-10 etc. For a triple – an example would be something like 6 – 12 – 8 (short-long-medium long)

    Hope this helps

    Coach Kathleen

  4. Hi Kathleen

    My wife and I have not done a stage race before and we are considering doing a 28km followed by a 45km. We have run a few 21km road races but that is as far as we have gone. The race is in 18 weeks time and reading the above reply made me think we could get the training done. Would we be risking injury trying to do a race like this without having done other similar races? What would you do if in the same position? Thanks Leon

    • Hi Leon

      If you are able to do 21km road races then 18 weeks is definitely enough time to prepare for your event. In fact 12 weeks is enough.
      I would spend 6 weeks gradually building distance on the trails starting with a 10km as your long trail run, then over the last 12 weeks do longer trail runs and include some weekends of double long runs to get your body used to going long for two days in a row. Starting earlier and you could face burn out before the event.

      Always follow the 10% rule when increasing distance (i.e. increase your weekly distance and your long run distance by 10% at a time) to build up gradually. It also works well to increase for two weeks, decrease for a week, increase for two weeks, etc. The third week of decreased training gives you the mental and physical break you need to keep going.

      Happy training

      Coach Kathleen

  5. Hi Kathleen. My husband is doing the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 250km in 6 days. First timer for trail running, just finished Comrades in 9:59.
    Any advise for the next 18 weeks of training please?

    Regards

    Judy

  6. Hi Judy

    Thank you for your question.

    Firstly, it is very important that your husband gives himself enough time to recover from Comrades. Both physically and mentally. I suggest 2 weeks complete break followed by 2 weeks of slowly easing into training.

    Important aspects to consider of the race are the sandy terrain and running with a pack. As well as the midday heat! He needs to practice under similar conditions in his longer weekend runs especially in the last 6 weeks.

    Leg 1,2 and 6 should be fairly straight forward for him. It is the middle legs 3,4,5 that are the ones to focus on in training.

    I would suggest building up to triple weekends (Fri, Sat, Sun) where the total of the biggest weekend (3 days) is approx 120km with the longest run being 60k. An example would be 30, 60, 30.
    Build up to this slowly though.

    Mondays and Tuesdays rest days, Wednesday a run of 10-15k, Thursday a rest day.

    Nutrition and recovery strategies are going to be important and need to be practiced in training.

    If not doing strength work yet – some running specific strength training 1-2 times per week will make a big difference.

    Hope this helps!

    For more training assistance you can email me on kathleen@active4life.co.za

  7. Hi Kathleen,

    is there somewhere where i can find/download a training programme for a 2 day trail run (Oxpecker) 21km/16km respectively. my husband and i are going to enter and are not sure how to start!

    any info would be great! thanks

    • Hi

      The distances for Oxpecker are short enough that you can follow a basic half marathon training plan. Adjust the plan to include 3 weekends where you do two longish days in a row. You will see the plans will have a weekly long run on the weekend. On 3 of these weekends, do this run on the Saturday and then follow with a run of 50-75% of the Saturday distance on the Sunday.

      You will find some half marathon plans here https://www.trainingpeaks.com/coach/kathleen
      Do at 2 of the weekly runs on trail to get used to technical running.

      Hope this helps. Feel free to email me on kathleen@active4life.co.za for more advice

      kind regards
      Coach Kathleen

  8. Hey Kathleen,
    Great read on multi stage training. I wonder if you could help me or point me in the right direction. I have entered the Oxpecker in May and the first day is a 21 km and the second day is a 16km trail run. I have done a few one day trail runs but never a back to back trail so just need to know how would you go about training for this now in January up until May? I live close to the beach so do run a lot on the promenade but it is flat terrain and know I need to hit some trails but just don’t know where to start as I have 5 months to prepare. Any guidelines would be appreciated. Thank you

    • Dear Taryn

      Good news is that you have plenty of time to prepare.
      You will need 12 weeks to prepare so you want to start your training around February.
      Slowly build up what you are doing by increasing your training by 5-10% per week. Increase your training for 2 weeks then drop back down for a week before going up again.
      One of your runs needs to be a long slow run building up to around 22k little by little. Closer to the event you can implement doubles as mentioned above.

      If you cannot get to the trails, find some stairs in your area and do stair workouts. These will strengthen your legs for the trails.

      Hope this helps!

      Coach Kathleen
      RUN.LAUGH.LIVE

  9. Hi Kathleen,

    Interesting reading, thank you! Myself and a few mates have entered the 3 Stage Wild Coast Run (44-35-34) in September without having done anything on par with that previously. Most of the chaps (all 40 years and older!) have done 21km road events at most although we run trails socially quite regularly. Currently we are managing 4 trail runs per week (2x 10km and then 2x consecutive 16km on weekends – give or take)
    We had it in mind to build up gradually to 3 hour plus runs over weekends, but from your response to previous queries I’m now concerned that we may be too aggressive in our approach. With the event still a good 29weeks away I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how we should manage our schedule going forward?

    Thank you!

    Louis

    • Hi Louis

      Your current training is perfect for now. 12 Weeks out you can start building those big long runs in. In the meantime 2 things you can do: Change one of your runs to be a hill workout to improve your strength and running efficiency and build one of your longer runs to around 20k.

      Good luck!

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