Eilish McColgan's 5 power workouts

The double Olympian outlines her favourite sessions for building power

Eilish McColgan: a double Olympian on the track who is also a keen trail runner (Credit: Bob Atkins)

Eilish McColgan: a double Olympian on the track who is also a keen trail runner (Credit: Bob Atkins)

You probably spotted Eilish McColgan on TV winning a silver medal at the European Championships this past summer on the track. But what you won’t know is that she owes all of this success to a love of trail running. In fact, despite living slap in the middle of suburbia her house is barely 10 seconds from a fabulous trail that offers more than 15 miles of undulating off-road, meaning that she never ever has to set foot on the dreaded road.

It explains how she’s become one of Britain’s fastest ever 1500m and 5000m runners, without running too many miles. By her own admission, her weekly total of around 40 is on the light side but clearly that strength and power she’s developed off-road more than compensates for the apparent lack of endurance.

Eilish admits that to move to the next level – gold rather than silver – she might have to ease up that total slightly and she says this winter she’ll be looking at something closer to 60. And she has the genes: her mum Liz won the London and New York Marathons and was one of the greatest long-distance runners in the world in the late 1980s and early 90s, while her dad Pete represented GB in the steeplechase and the World Cross Country Champs.

Eilish says: “Trail runners tend to view power as unnecessary, concluding that endurance is the only way. But power is a killer tool to have within your locker if you can use it correctly. Over the years, I’ve discovered that, without exception, all of the fastest athletes in the world are powerful. I realised that if I wanted to compete on a level playing field, I’d better develop some power myself. On the track they have a hidden weapon – unleashing a powerful blast on the last lap. Off the track, they power to a pace that others simply can’t stick with. So, how do we create this power? Simple: hills, sprints and some more hills! Here are my top five workouts for creating power!”

1 Tempo efforts

I love to sandwich my hill sprints with a tempo effort (around 80% of my maximum pace) to replicate the fatigue I feel towards the end of a race. I use a good flat trail for tempo efforts to make sure I’m hitting
the correct pace, before finding a very steep incline for the hill sprints. I try to keep my tempo efforts at the same pace, but do hills at a flat-out sprint. Focusing on form, driving the knees up, pumping the arms hard, creating as much power as I possibly can.

The workout 1.5-mile tempo effort, 2min recovery, 10x30s hills, jog back 2 mins recovery, 1.5-mile tempo effort.

2 Back to back 100s

This is a session my mum (Liz, the Olympic silver medalist at 10,000m in 1988) used to give us in the winter and it’s a real killer. After a tempo effort or fartlek session she would get us to incorporate back-to-back 100s. The legs will be tired but it’s really important to power through the 100m as a sprint as fast as you can. 

The workout The session is typically running 10x100m, but you can start with 5x100m to try to keep a fast pace before building up towards 10m once you become stronger and fitter to maintain the speed. The recovery is very short between each 100m at 20s, so you quite literally sprint 100m, rest for 20 seconds, then turn around and sprint back! 

3 Fartlek session

This is another great session for working on both endurance and power (fartlek is Swedish for ‘speed play’).
Make sure the trail is tough and undulating. When you get to a hill, focus on driving up it as quick as you can – no matter what repetition you’re on.

The workout 6mins at 10k pace, 2x3mins at 5k pace, 6x1mins 1 mile pace, 6mins 10k pace. Recovery should be short throughout, at 90 seconds continuous jog between the sets, 60 seconds between the 3min efforts, and 30s between the 1mins. Combining endurance sessions with sporadic sprints throughout the session will help strengthen the legs.

4 Acceleration 120s

Try to keep the surface as flat as possible. These exercises should be done after a session to increase your speed and power. Mark out 20m, 60m, 100m and 120m on the ground. For the 5 reps you’re going to start at around 60% effort and work up towards 100% effort on your last rep. 

The workout The first 20m should be at a relaxed pace, really focusing on your running style and a powerful posture throughout. Between 20m to 60m you should be accelerating and over those final 60m – give it everything you’ve got at an all-out sprint. Think of it like this: you’re moving up through the gears, gently pressing on your accelerator through each section.

5 Long hills

Hills and lots of them. Throughout the winter I always have one session a month where I aim to do the entire session on a hill. It can be tricky to find one that’s long enough, but the longer 3-minute effort takes priority here. On the recovery, jog back down as far as you can before starting again.

The workout 3-minute effort up long hill. 30 second recovery. Walk/jog recovery down to start. 1 minute sprint. 90-sec recovery down.Complete five sets