Head for the hills
The warmer weather can encourage runners to swap tarmac for trails, a brilliant idea for runners who are looking to mix up their usual running route. If you’re training for a long distance race, or are just are just finding that your regular routes don’t seem to be as challenging as they once did, Robert Jones, expert at Sportsshoes.com has some advice on how to start to get into outdoor trail running.
Benefits of starting trail running
- Breathe life into training.New and interesting technical trails can breathe new life into the grind of daily training.
- Challenge your fitness. Taking on challenging off-road hills helps inject speed into your stride and boost fitness fast.
- Improve coordination and stability. By adjusting footfall over uneven ground you’ll develop and improve muscles that control coordination and stability.
- Help regain focus and form. Constantly assessing the trail ahead and checking your own running style as you cover the ground will improve mental focus and run form.
- Explore the great outdoors. Hit the trails to just enjoy being in the great outdoors – just don’t forget to look up now and again!
Choosing your training terrain
Different types of terrain offer different benefits to runners. Here are a few that might help improve your stride and achieve your running goals:
- Why – Regular hill sprints are a must for any runner’s training plan. Inclined sprints can help develop explosive power and strength in the legs. Aim for piece of inclined trail with good footing and one you can run up for 15-20 seconds – avoid sections that are too steep that it’s actually quicker to walk!
- How – Incorporate steep inclines into your training by adding a weekly session containing six to eight hill sprint intervals, walking down slowly after each to recover. Be sure to warm-up thoroughly and pre-stretch before you start!
- Why – Running long slow runs on grassy trail can help improve running economy and help the body adapt to greater mileage. Running on grass can also be kinder to your joints than hitting the road – the softer terrain dampens the impact of the foot striking the ground. A softer terrain will also help strengthen leg muscles as they will tend to lengthen more than when running on firmer ground.
- How – Fit long easy runs into your training at least once a week. Aim to head out for a nice slow jog and don’t try to beat any personal bests. This type of run is all about distance, so take it easy and hold back when hitting any inclines.
- Why – The undulating terrain of rolling hills is perfect territory for longer run intervals. As with longer runs and short intervals, long intervals should form part of any runner’s training as they are great for boosting aerobic capacity and endurance, especially for longer distance runners.
- How – Choose a route with plenty of moderate hills (none too steep though) and after a 10 minute easy jog to warm inject some speed holding a fast pace on both up or downward sections of trail for intervals of three to six minutes. Try and fit around four to eight of these intervals into your run with decent jog breaks between to recover.
SIx trail tips for beginners
- Be prepared
Trail running can be demanding and, as with any run, you may find you can’t quite cover the mileage you’d planned (not yet that is) or the weather changes half way through! As much as possible try to prepare for these different eventualities, for example plan your route beforehand on www.strava.com, and take a light windproof/waterproof with you, etc.
- Stay safe
The risk of picking up sprains or strains will increase running on uneven ground with loose footing. Take care when trail running, keep focused on the ground in front of you taking smaller steps than normal and frequently looking up to check five or six metres ahead to see what’s coming.
- Pace yourself
Choose your pace wisely and you’ll grow in strength both physically and mentally. Choose unwisely and you may burn too much energy too soon and end your run early due to fatigue. If you are a road runner, plan a fairly conservative route at first – it’s surprising just how much harder running off-road can be!
- Keep focused
There are times on hilly trails where it’s tempting to grind to halt and rest. If you are physically struggling on a section of trail try slowing your pace to allow your body to recover. If you do need to stop running try to keep walking at a brisk pace until your breathing eases and you can start to run again.
- Remain consistent
When running up and down hills try to keep your pace consistent, especially if you’re heading out for a longer run. Try not to expend too much energy grinding up inclines and keep your pace even. Same goes for downhill sections, it’s tempting to let gravity take you and fly down descents, but ease up, slow your pace and stay safe.
- Get the right kit
Trail running shoes are very different to road running trainers. Do a wet foot print test at home to find your natural gait, this will help you choose trainers that support your personal running style. Trail running can expose you to tougher weather so make sure to look for light weight jackets and quick-dry tops and bottoms.