Helen Dixon - Trail Runner, COROS Wearer, Co-Founder of trail running and adventure blog trailandkale.com 

If you have a background in road running or are new to running with a GPS watch on trails then it’s worth thinking about how you can use your GPS watch differently in your training to help improve your performance when running on trails.

When compared to running on roads, trail running offers some different physical and mental challenges that you can use as bases for measuring your training performance, in addition to popular metrics such as your pace or speed over a given distance or segment. This offers a lot of opportunities to get creative with your training while working on improving your fitness and performance at the same time - especially if you love tracking and analyzing your running and fitness-related data.


With that in mind, here are five ways you can use your GPS watch to improve your trail running performance:

  1. Train using heart rate zones rather than by distance and pace

Once you have set your resting and maximum heart rates in the COROS app you’ll be able to use the computed heart rate zones (using your GPS watch’s on-wrist optical heart rate monitor) to your advantage in training. 

Doing a tempo run? Make sure your heart rate is in those ‘moderate’ aerobic power and threshold zones for the duration of your run, regardless of the terrain or gradients you’re running up or down. 

Is it ‘easy recovery run day’? In that case, make sure you’re not pushing your heart rate out of your ‘easy’ aerobic endurance zone - walk those uphills if you need to so you’re not over-exerting yourself.


Doing interval training? You need to be trying to spend time pushing yourself up into those higher heart rate zones to get the benefits of this type of speed work. This can be more easily done if you combine your interval training with some uphill trails - and you’ll know that the hard work you put in to training with uphill intervals will pay dividends when it comes to your next hilly or mountainous trail race.

  1. Pay attention to your recovery time

Trail running puts a strain on so many parts of your body (and not just your legs) so it’s important to ensure you are getting the right amount of recovery time between your runs and training sessions, to reduce your chances of overtraining and burnout.

A good GPS watch with an integrated heart rate monitor will help track your recovery time and tell you if you need to take a break from training after big efforts - whether those were intensive hill repeats or your weekend’s long trail run. This helps you recover quicker and be smart with planning your training loads each week.

Using your personal historical data along with metrics from your latest activity, such as pace, distance and heart rate, COROS EvoLab will calculate a perceived effort and recommend a time for full recovery - you can use the training load data provided by your GPS watch as a reference when adjusting the intensity and duration of your training. 

On days where your GPS watch suggests you take it easy, try a swimming or yoga session, or simply some stretches at home, to work on your mobility and flexibility without significantly raising your heart rate or doing any high-impact activity.

  1. Train specifically for elevation gain and loss

If your GPS watch has a barometric altimeter (like the COROS APEX, APEX PRO, and VERTIX 1/2) then it will track not only the distance, time and speed of your runs, but also the elevation gain and loss, as well as the altitude at which your run took place.


As seasoned trail and mountain runners know, sometimes the elevation gain or loss in a route or race course can be more punishing than running the distance itself. This is especially true when the run is at a significant elevation above sea level and it gets that much harder. 

If you’re training for trail races in the mountains, then just as you may do speed and distance training sessions as part of your training plan, it pays to use your GPS watch to track trail runs by elevation gained and lost and plan these in, too. If you can be confident in your ability and strength to run up and downhill a similar amount of vertical feet as your race’s elevation profile, then you know that you’ve done the right amount of work when it comes to elevation training.

  1. Track and compare performance over the same route in training

Even if you’re running a route that has hills and uneven terrain, you can monitor your performance by running the same route at different times during your training. This way you can track your performance improvement over the route in total and challenge yourself to shave time off it each time you run it with intent.


Monitoring your performance over a given route rather than specific segments or a distance (which can be run in any location) has the advantage of ‘ironing out’ environmental factors such as the ground being softer or harder underfoot, or a strong headwind in one section of the run, so you don’t get too focused on performance over those smaller segments and more about the bigger picture of the entire route. 

This can really help with your mental focus and resilience when it comes to endurance training, for distances over half marathon through to ultra marathons, as those long trail running efforts get done well when they’re done consistently, with focus and without over-training or straining yourself on smaller segments or portions of any given run.

  1. Optimize your trail running form 

For most of us there is room for improvement in our running form, especially when it comes to our strength, posture, pace and balance when running up and downhill on trails, and even more so when that running is also on technical and loose terrain.

An advanced performance optimization device such as the COROS POD will monitor your movement and performance to give you data to help improve your running form, including your stride length, left to right balance, cadence, stride height and stride length. With this knowledge you can prioritize working on improving your weaker areas when it comes to running form, and monitor the effect of changes and that hard work using the data you gather over subsequent training runs. 

If you love data and you love working on improving your trail running performance, then this is definitely a great (and dare I say - fun) tool for the nerdiest and most dedicated of us to analyze and focus our trail running training.


Trail and Kale is a trail running, hiking and outdoor adventure blog:

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