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Winter Training | XC - Preparation Part One

Firstly, you need to identify what you wish to achieve. Is it to be ready for a spring marathon, a half marathon or an event in the summer? This will give you a timescale of when you need to be ready and you can create your training phases and set mini goals along the way. If your goal is next spring, you obviously have a longer time to build up than if the goal is before Christmas. This doesn’t mean you can’t have smaller or ‘B’ goals along the way it just means your winter will be structured differently.


Having identified what your goal is now you can plan your build up or phases. As an endurance runner we believe that building your aerobic capabilities is the most important. Some use the baking a cake or building a house analogy – Aerobic Capabilities is your foundations or your sponge. How much mileage you run is personal and there is no magic number – some athletes fair well on high mileage and some don’t. Some break down and get injured or sick when they try and push to a higher volume and others just feel better keeping it lower and others thrive running higher mileage and feel stronger the more they run. If your goal is to increase your mileage, you need to ensure you do it sensibly and the rule tends to be no more than 10% over a period of time on what you’ve done previously and let your body adapt before further increasing it. AND don’t get obsessed counting it. One piece of advice is to keep a check on your last 7 day count not your Monday-Sunday count. Your body doesn’t know it’s Wednesday it just knows its tired.


Phases again are individual; however, we like to break it down into 3-4 week blocks and the 4th week will be slightly easier and maybe have a race at the end of it but not always and it’s not fixed as you can’t always determine when the races will fall. We use this as a general rule and we *would* race a less significant event during a high week if it was part of the plan and the training at that point was of a higher priority than that particular race or jig things around and take the easier week earlier or push it back if need be. Flexibility is key and having easier weeks planned in is important rather than waiting for your body to break down before you rest as by then it is too late.


There are different elements to include in your winter training and it depends on the goal. If your goal is XC (especially in the UK) then you need to practice running on grass and not always perfect grass – try and find different types and use the hills and tough spots as practice rather than avoiding them. You will also need to practice in spikes to get used to this. If your goal is on the roads (10k-Marathon) then this is less important. However, you may find a benefit in doing some grass training and/or XC racing as its good strength work and may keep injuries at bay rather than continuously running on the roads all winter. If you don’t want to then you need to try and source a good road loop ideally well-lit and low on traffic. For us we try to find a variety of loops and surfaces; one grass/soft surface loop, one large road loop, a road hill, a good surface trail and a track. This ensures that regardless of the weather we always have an option for training and mostly we find these at the beginning of the winter or if we are away on camp these are sussed in the first week if not known beforehand.


Once you’ve sorted locations, you need to then work out what areas you are going to work on. Generally, the main ones are tempo or threshold, interval reps, strength work, easy mileage and the long run. We have categorised and grouped them together (Red/Amber/Green) for ease of understanding. Red is hard, Amber is significant but not considered a workout and green is easy or rest. The only difference is the long run. Sometimes a long run will be considered a workout (red) especially if you’re a marathon runner and then other times it will be just a significant run but not a hard workout (Amber) hence why we had made it amber and red below. Our rule for our runners is to try and ensure you have either easy miles or rest in between the other elements. For example, if on a Monday you did tempo work you wouldn’t do intervals on a Tuesday you’d wait until at least Wednesday or even Thursday depending on the intensity of both sessions, your tiredness levels and schedule. This doesn’t mean you can’t run a fair few easy miles in between this but the goal is to recover and be ready to go again for your next work out. An example schedule is shown below based on our own programmes.


M – Easy Miles/Rest

T – Intervals/Hills

W – Easy Miles/Rest

T – Longer Easy Miles + Hill Strides

F – Tempo

S – Easy Miles/Rest

S – Long Run

M – Easy Miles/Rest

T – Longer Easy Miles + Hill Strides

W – Intervals/Hills

T – Easy Miles/Rest

F – Tempo

S – Easy Miles/Rest

S – Long Run


We will go into more detail on this next month as to the different elements and why we have put them where they are. It is only a guide to show how we would consider structuring training on a two week cycle. Some people use a week or ten days; it is personal and factors such as work and family commitments will dictate it for most runners. The goal is to find a routine that works for you that you can complete consistently with minimal stress. Without the easy or rest days you risk injury or illness so we would advise not doing back to back red days even if your schedule is crammed or something comes up and just bagging the second workout or pushing it back a few days until you have more time. You’ll gain more than doing a good workout and then a rushed and tired workout. You’ll also give your immune system a chance to recover and any tightness and soreness to subside.


Next month we will go into more detail on these different elements as well as providing some session suggestions. In the meantime, we have a range of FREE training plans and an option to have one personalised with paces etc for £30.


For FREE plans click here


To request a personalised version click the link above and scroll to the bottom of the page once you have found the plan for you.


For strength work for endurance runners you can find

Part One here - Intro, Breathing, Posture & Muscle Activation

Part Two here - Strength Programme - Exercises, Sets & Reps

Part Three here - Recovery, Mobility & Flexibility - They're not the same

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