Who needs trail running training tips? Well, the reality probably is that we can all pick something up from each other, from people with a lot more experience, and from those with very little. It’s amazing how a relative newbie can ask a question, or make a comment that really makes you think about the way you run, or something you could try. I never discount any opinion or idea without at least giving it some serious thought. Being humble is an essential asset in trail running. Be humble enough to learn from others, or the trail may just humble you itself
Running efficiency is something that lots of people have lots of ideas on. Some say ‘just run’, others suggest that you dissect your gait, stride length, landing etc, into such minute detail that running no longer is fun, it’s more of a scientific experiment. Sports science is a wonderful thing, but I tend to take a middle of the road approach. Getting out and running is essential to become a good runner, and picking out parts of your technique to work on during a run is great. Just don’t get overwhelmed with it and give up. Injury prevention is something you always want to work on, and learning to run properly will make it a distant glimmer in the back of your mind, not something that scares the crap out of you with every step you take. I tend to pick a couple of areas for improvement and just think about them when I’m out running, don’t try to correct everything at once.
One of the most important revelations to me when I started running was posture, stride length, and foot strike. These three areas needed a lot of work, and once I started thinking about them a bit during the runs, the improvements really started to come. I’m nearly 6’3″ tall and I used to over stride like hell. No wonder the quads ached and I always seemed to be running in slow motion, according to one critical observer. The reality is that faster cadence and smaller steps really make a huge difference to your running efficiency. I read a lot, and now aim for a foot cadence of 180 steps per minute, whether I am going uphill or down. And on technical trails, the stride length often gets shorter, rocks, tree trunks and other obstacles see to that.
The reality is, that if your stride is too long, you likely heel strike, or if you run with an arched rather than a straight back, then getting a DVD like Chi Running or the Evolution Running DVD by Ken Mierke is probably a great idea. Safe efficient running is definitely a lot more fun than a hard trudge, with your body doing everything it can to slow your progress. Here are a couple of Amazon links to those DVD’s if you are interested. I get a small commission, helps keep the site going etc. These are not essential, there is plenty of free info out there, like on Jason Robillard’s excellent barefoot running site. I’ve also included the POSE method here, don’t know much about it, but it is a well respected running technique in a ‘similar’ vein, so might be worth a look.
Trail Running Training Tips
I got so carried away on that last section, I nearly forgot what I was supposed to be talking about, trail running training tips. Here are a few that will ensure that you get the best from your workout, and hopefully leave you feeling tired, but ecstatic, and injury free.
1. Take Your Time, No Need To Rush
Running off road is going to be somewhat more challenging than the asphalt, but in different ways. On the road, you are likely to want to throw yourself off the nearest cliff due to boredom, on the trail, a wrongly placed foot could see you teetering on the edge of a real precipice. Always make sure that when you first head off on a new route, you do a little research first, take a look at a map, take someone with you who has run it before, or at least…..take it steady. In fact, if you are running in challenging terrain it is often worth taking a friend in case of emergencies, or at least doing a recce beforehand to make sure that you have mobile coverage. Dying of a broken ankle would be a little embarrassing wouldn’t it?
Pitter Patter steps are good on the trail, particularly on the rocky or loose parts where footing is not certain. More smaller steps are better than huge hulking ones….trust me, I’ve done it and the groin said……NOOOOOOOOO!!! Take it easy the first time, and then pick up the pace on the next trip when you are sure of the transitions between surfaces. Don’t get over confident though, a little rain or morning dew can change things a lot.
2. Straight Back Is Best
One of the things you will be aware of if you have been running seriously for some time is that when you get tired and start to slump, the whole thing just seems to get that bit more uncomfortable. Hills still get me, but I’m running them more and more these days. You need to give your lungs the best possible chance to get that air into them, and if you are bent up like a geriatric person (trying not to be unkind), you will find that them lungs don’t fill like they ought to. So, a straight back throughout your run will definitely make that whole annoying respiration thing a lot easier. I like to image that I have a piece of string pulling at the top of my head, but don’t overdo it and tilt the head back. I also find that running on more minimalist shoes, or even barefoot around a grassy field really helps to straighten the back…try it.
3. Lighten Up Dude!
If you have read Born To Run by Chris MacDougall, you’ll certainly have taken in a lot about the Tarahumara and the way they, and other top trail runners almost glide across the ground with a lightness that most of us only dream of. I’ve improved a lot, but when I started it was like an elephant with flat feet thundering along the paths. I soon learned that light, quick, nimble footwork made things a lot easier for both me and my lungs, who really appreciated it. A shorter stride and kicking your feet up behind you feels kinda weird at first, but with practice, the running becomes a lot easier and certainly less tiring on the legs.
I tend to find that when you are out in mud, on shale or with a lot of obstacles, you tend to lighten up anyway, there just isn’t the ability to thunder along like you do on a flat surface, a lot of road runners could do well by adding a few trail runs to their itinerary.
Hills are something that strikes sickening fear into many, and sure, fighting against gravity is certainly harder than using it to your advantage, but maintaining a fast cadence with short quick steps will help a lot. You should also add a little ‘bounce’ to your step to keep you rising up that incline. Bouncing is a definite No-No on level ground, the energy used on the upward motion and the landing is just too energy sapping. But for inclines, you need it.
Don’t try to maintain your pace on the uphill sections, just maintain the cadence, and over time you will improve. That’s not to say that some specific hill running intervals are not good, if you like to feel like your lungs have been turned inside out, but make that type of work a part of your routine not the ‘be all and end all’ of it.
Downhill running is what lots of people love, but the reality is that most people do not do it very well. In the Evolution Running material Ken Mierke talks about downhill running in depth, and how leaning back and ‘braking’ is not the ideal way to do it. He advocates pretty much the same body positioning as flat running, with a few minor modifications. Working to increase both confidence and leg speed are essential, but you can make up a LOT of time if you become a good downhill runner.
4. Scan Ahead – But Not Too Far.
The best trail runners really seem to make it look easy don’t they? They seem to do everything right, feet always landing in the perfect spot, never missing a step, but they have spent a long time honing these skills to a level where it looks like they just aren’t trying. As a beginner trail runner, you need to start to instil some of the good practices in you, and observation is a vital attribute. Trails can be dangerous places, death is probably the worst case scenario, but the reality is that strains, sprains, and abrasions (to coin some terms from the First Aid manual) are the more likely outcome. Taking a little first aid kit and a mobile are a good idea, as is telling someone your route if you are going away from civilisation a little.
Being able to read the trail in the middle distance but spend the majority of your time looking 4-5 paces ahead of you will make sure that your feet know where to land, and where to avoid. With time, this becomes a very natural thing, you won’t need to think about it, but until then, keep looking and learning those trail reading skills.
I’ve included a couple of videos by some of the most notable trail runners, offering their advice and trail running training tips. Scott Jurek is a legend in trail and ultra running, and offers his wisdom on common trail running mistakes.
In this second vid, Karl Melzer and Scott Mason offer some great tips on how to get started with trail running.
I really hope you have enjoyed this article on trail running tips, and if you have, please retweet it or ‘like’ it on Facebook. It’s all about sharing
Good luck, get out on the trails, and Run Wild