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Running is running, you might think, and to a certain extent, this is true. However, trail running is a fair bit different from running on the roads. To help you get started on the trails, I have put together some trail running tips to give you the heads up on what to expect. I hope you find them useful. Remember to stay safe and have fun.
Get The Right Shoes
If you’re going to embrace trail running, it’s smart to buy a pair of trail running shoes. Trail running shoes are different to traditional road-running shoes in that they’re often bigger looks, to handle rugged terrain and have a lower profile, which decreases the likelihood of ankle rolls with a high heel shoe. The rugged tread offers more reliable traction on muddy, wet trails.
Trail running shoes should fit snug on the heel area but have ample room in the toe box. Remember to look after your shoes. After a wet or muddy run, please take out the insoles, wash all off the mud, and stuff with old newspaper, so they dry out.
Remember Every Trail is Unique
One of the great things with trail running is that every trail has its own unique terrain and set of challenges. Runs might t be on groomed trails, that are wide, limestone-based, and often even in the surface, making for a fabulous introduction to running off the road. There are narrow “singletrack” trails with various obstacles, including tree roots, rocks, sand, hills, mud, and more.
Carry Some Water With You
Always take water with you on a trail run, as it will take to complete the trial run. Due to weather conditions, even the same trail might take longer one day than another – if the route is muddy or there is snow on the ground. I like to use a grip-free water bottle, but you could also consider a hydration pack – these running packs & vests are also pretty great for carrying your water.
Don't Run So Fast - It's Not A Race
Running on trails is more demanding than road running, especially if it’s a technical track with roots, rocks, and other fun obstacles. Don’t worry about Strava times or comparing your pace to your road runs – because it will be slower. I suggest you decrease your pace and over time, you will develop a trail tempo – you can then run easy, steady or hard paces based upon your new effort analysis.
New trail runners might want to consider walking the hills and running the downhills and flats—no shame in that Build up to running the hills slowly, and you’ll prevent injury and burnout along the way.
Adapt & Alter Pace Depending On The Trail
Run at a pace suitable to the terrain and maintain a consistent effort level regardless of if you are foin uphill or downhill. Running over downed trees or through deep muddy fields can take some getting used to, so t’s best to progress slowly. Tackling obstacles will get easier as your body gets stronger and more seasoned on trails.
Take Your Time On The Hills
Take shorter and quicker steps when going up hills and use your arms to help with momentum. Some hills should be walked, particularly on the super technical trails. Remind yourself that most runners walk the hills and run the downs and flats and it’s okay to walk certain sections – even the best in the world do. On gradual downhills on groomed trails, lean into the downhill, open up your stride length, and let the hill pull you down to the bottom, watching out for any obstacles underfoot.
For technical downhills or steep hills should use a stair-stepping motion instead; similar to running down the stairs, keeping your torso tall and letting your legs do all the work.
Practice You're Trail Running Technique
Just as running intervals will improve speed, running trail repeats create new neuro-pathways in your brain and raise your technical trail running skills. If you live in the Peak District – great you have trails all around you. Not everyone is so lucky, though. However, you should have some form of trail reasonably close even if it is a short trail. Find the most technical segment you can and run repeats on this segment. This might be a short path up a hill, a loop of your local nature reserve or footpath/bridleway through some country fields.
Keep Your Eyes On The Trail
It can be tempting to look straight down at your feet or take in the natural surrounding, but you then run the risk of a trip and fall. Try to focus on looking 3 or 4 meters ahead to create a run line or where you will step for the next few strides.
Unlike road running where the path is pretty clean and flat, aside from the odd pothole, trail paths are more hazardous. You have roots sticking out the ground, mud which might be hiding a deeper hole, rocks where you could bash your toes.
Stay Safe On The Trails
By their very nature, trails are more remote than roads or pavements, so getting help if you get lost or injured is more of a challenge. It’s also likely that there will be fewer people using them. Remember to take your phone with you and run with a friend if you can. If you run alone, then let someone know where you are going, take a map, some snacks and if you have a GPS watch – set-up the emergency feature.
Don't Expect To Run Personal Best
Running off-road can be exhausting at first, and will definitely take you longer than a normal road run, especially in the early stages of training. Leave the ego at home, slow your pace, and focus on finding a new rhythm. In a matter of weeks, you’ll be running up hills you used to walk, and you’ll develop a sense of being one with the terrain.