Running trails for two years doesn’t exactly make me an expert, but when you’ve recently made the switch from road racing to trail running the things that make it different are still fresh in you mind. There are a few things that I think have helped me find success and more importantly have fun trail racing.
One of the things that I love about trail running is that the focus is more running “by feel” rather than pace-focused running. Instead of making goals around specific race times, trail running allows you to focus on your effort in the moment and for me, thinking about each step as opposed to glancing at my watch for specific paces is a lot more enjoyable.
Nearly every trail in the northeast, unless you’re on an old railroad bed or logging road, is guaranteed to be technical. Staying nibble and light over rocks and roots can mean the difference between running smoothly and tripping or falling. Footwork drills can be helpful in keeping you upright on tough terrain. Here are a few drills I do regularly:
Toe Taps: Standing in front of a low step (or if you’re outside in the driveway while your kids ride their bikes the hub cap of your car tire works too;) Alternate taping the toe of your foot on the step edge. Preform 50-100 reps, 2-3 times.
High Knees : In rapid succession, alternate lifting your knees up, to hip-height. Pump arms to keep balance. Preform 50-100 reps, 2-3 times.
Butt Kicks: Alternate kicking you heel to your backside. Repeat rapidly, pumping arms for balance.Preform 50-100 reps, 2-3 times.
These drills are great for strengthening the ankles and feet:
The demands of trail running are different than road running, since you’re moving across multiple planes. There’s linear and lateral motion and all that movement requires a strong core to remain balanced and prevent injury. You have to go beyond typical crunches and really focus on the deeper muscle layers, like the transverse abdominis (TA) that are key for stability. Here are a few moves that will help you develop core stability for trail running. Each of these moves progress in difficulty and if you’re having trouble activating your TA, you should start with the first video which practices activation with breathing. Then progress to the other moves as you strengthen your TA.
Transverse Abdominis Activation:
Glute and Transverse Abdominis Activation:
For the roller balance, activate the TA and keep it engaged as you alternate lowering and lifting each leg. Raising your hands and keeping them pressed together will help you with TA activation and prevent you from arching your back as you lift and lower your legs. Keep your spine neutral as you perform this move.
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If you can get more comfortable on pushing the downhill, you’ll find yourself at an advantage when it comes to racing. Practice downhill running both on the roads and the trail. Downhill repeats on the road can help improve foot turnover and develop durability in your soft tissue. Downhill running on the trails will help you become more comfortable moving quickly over rocks, roots and loose gravel. Timothy Olson, decorated ultra runner and record holder at Western States, says that he imagines himself water as he runs downhill and takes the “path of least resistance.”
If you’re making the transition to the trails you’ll definitely want to invest in a good pair of trail shoes. Consider the terrain you’ll be running on: for more technical terrain you’ll want a pair of shoes with aggressive lugs, less technical terrain and you can get by with a road/trail cross-over shoe. There’s a multitude of shoes out there to choose from, to find the one that is best for you head to your local specialty store and get fitted for a good match. I run in the Topo Athletic Terraventure and MT-2, both are strong on technical terrain and have a minimal stack height and firm ground feel, which I prefer.
As for clothing, apparel that dries quickly will be more comfortable, especially when it comes to your socks. I’ve found that socks made from synthetic materials tend to not dry as quickly, so I wear Smartwool Merino wool socks, which dry quickly.
When it comes to hydration packs, I’ve been using the Ultra Vesta from Ultimate Directions Jenny Collection. It’s a great pack and worth the investment. You can check out my full review HERE.
If you’re thinking this is the year try your luck at trail running, I say go for it!
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com