Training and Fuelling For a Trail Marathon

Training and Fuelling For a Trail Marathon

Updated: Mar 26, 2024Veronika Larisova

The Shotover Moonlight Marathon in Queenstown, NZ, is known for being the most stunning and possibly the most gruelling mountain race in this part of the world. The race path follows abandoned 1880s gold mining water races, sheep tracks on razorback ridges, climbs past stunning waterfalls on ladders and passes through an abandoned gold mining tunnel. Exceptionally challenging, with over 2500m of climbing and descending on demanding single-track running, it really is a must-do for any mountain runner, including myself. The helicopter drop-off at the race start is a key attraction for me personally. What an adventure!



Being fast on the road doesn’t necessarily translate to a stellar trail running performance. While road races are smooth and flat, trail running involves uphill climbs, steep downhills, jumping over rocks and tree branches, running through mud, creeks and river crossings, and overtaking others on slippery single trails. There’s also compulsory gear you need to carry, which can weigh up to 3kg as it includes 1.5L of water! Trail running is simply a different game. You need better strength, balance, agility, and technical skills in comparison to road racing. You don’t need to do as much speed work, but you must work on your lactic acid threshold to be able to run up the hills and mountains instead of walking.


What should you cover in your training every week?


Hill and Stair Sprints:
  • Emphasise uphill running to build strength, endurance, and lactate threshold.
  • Practice downhill running techniques to minimise impact and maintain control.
  • Stair repeats are also great. Choose steep and uneven stairs.


Terrain-Specific Workouts:
  • Integrate trail-specific workouts to simulate race conditions.
  • If you can’t get on trails every week, include intervals on varying surfaces to adapt to different terrains. Even running on sand and grass will help.


Long, Slow Distance (LSD) Runs.
  • You need these to improve your endurance and build your tendon’s adaptation to the distance. It takes a long time to get your tendons ‘fit’ to run long distances, and you need to increase your volume gradually. Running too far too soon often results in injuries such as shin splints.
  • You can use your weekly trail run as an LSD run.


Easy Jogs and Walks
  • Incorporating easy jogs and walks into your strength days is a good way to get the lymph moving, thus helping your recovery while maintaining your tendon’s adaptation. However, don’t run every single day. Have 1-2 days off (non-consecutive).
  • Walking with a weighted vest is a good strategy to improve strength and endurance without overloading your tendons.


Balance and Agility:
  • Include exercises that enhance balance and agility to navigate uneven terrain.
  • If you are at the gym, you can use balance boards, Bosu balls, agility ladders and other equipment.


Strength Training
  • Strong quads and eccentric muscle control are essential for downhill descents; strong glutes and hamstrings are necessary for good balance and uphill running. Lift heavy weights and use basic exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and split squats. Include single-leg exercises to improve stability and balance. Science indicates that this type of training is the best for improving the running economy and preventing injuries.
  • End each session with core exercises. Keep in mind that abs are not a part of the core. When I speak about the core, I mean the deep muscles such as the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, pelvic floor, diaphragm and multifidus.
  • Working on diaphragmatic breathing is essential, especially for your core stability. The deep core muscles can’t engage efficiently without the diaphragm moving.


  • Rather than spending too much time on static stretches, work on your mobility. Focus especially on your hips, hamstrings, and calves, as you need them to be strong and mobile for optimal performance and injury prevention. 



The difference in nutrition for road running and trail running is in the race preparation and racing. Because you run slower and longer on trails, you don’t need to carb load (unless you are depleted) and consume gels, and you can fuel from a combination of carbs, protein, and fats. Lots of trail runners these days are fat-fuelled. Road running is much faster, and races don’t have checkpoints, so road runners can’t really eat whole foods during a race, while trail runners can. I like to have Chief Collagen Bars and homemade ‘gels’ (blended banana or mango, coffee, collagen, and honey in reusable mini bottles) during long trail races. I also put a natural electrolyte in my hydration pack or fill it up with coconut water.


Supplements all year around:



Recovery is a crucial part of athletic performance. Inadequate recovery often results in overtraining, compromised performance in training and racing, and injury. The older you are, the more important recovery becomes.


My weekly recovery includes:
  • A remedial massage to eliminate any tightness and improve muscle detoxification.
  • Compression boots every evening in bed.
  • Sauna after strength training and ice bath after running sessions or contrast therapy on days off training.
  • 8 hours sleep every night


I haven’t run a road marathon in a decade, and my last trail marathon was in 2018, so I’m putting myself through a test here. My friends who ran this race in the past said that it took them double their road marathon PB, which means I should be able to complete it in less than 6.5 hours. Stay tuned!


Veronika Larisova
Co-Founder, Registered Nutritionist, Exercise Physiologist 

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