Trail running is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and Europe. More and more runners are leaving behind the tarmac in search of new off-road challenges in beautiful surroundings, where speeds and distances become irrelevant and its just about you, exploring the path you’re running on and where it might go.
We’ve been enjoying the benefits of running off road for years; as a junior my track coach would ask us to do our long efforts on the grass, adding more resistance and creating a more stimulating environment than multiple laps of the 400m track. During my Ironman training I would complete my long runs off road, using the soft terrain to help reduce the impact and risk of injuries. More recently its been a way to explore the places I visit, grabbing a map and creating a course from paths and tracks has meant that I haven’t repeated a loop in the last 18months.
We’ve established it is very different to road running, which includes the training you should think about doing in the run up to a trail running event. So, we’ve listed our top 5 training tips to make sure you enjoy your next off-road running experience.
Time based training
Running off road slows you down. Running on loose or muddy surfaces and winding your way through twisty paths kills your average speed. Not to mention the constant adjustments to your stride length, foot placement, knee lift etc breaking up your rhythm slowing you down. Instead of focusing on pace and distance, focus only on your effort using heart rate or perceived exertion (how it feels) and the total running time. When completing interval training, use blocks of time rather than distance.
Prepare your body
There is a more to trail running than putting one foot in front of the other, especially if you want to go fast. Roots, rocks, loose and uneven surfaces will put more stress on your ankles than running on tarmac. Most of your stability will come from a strong core and glute muscles, but it is still important to work those small muscles in your feet and lower legs to help become more resilient against rolling your ankles. See our previous article for some good exercises.
Run more hills
The very nature of being off road, means that inevitably you’ll be faced with running up and down hills. Whilst we wouldn’t recommend doing all your running on hilly terrain its important to get used to the changes in gradient and the effect it has on your biomechanics. Shorten your stride and focus on a higher cadence when climbing uphill. When running back down, control your speed and try to reduce the impact to your muscles.
Work on technical skills
Take cues from our mountain bike friends. Trail running requires you to think about where the grip is. If you have grip, then you can speed up, slow down and change direction! Practice different lines around corners and obstacles, the obvious route may not be the easiest. Practice keeping your momentum, if your can hold your speed from a downhill into a steep uphill you’ll use less energy to get to the top.
Heading off the roads and pavements and into the wild does take a bit of planning. You can use physical OS maps, the Open Street mapping tool or the fitness apps from Strava or Garmin. We’ve had some excellent runs using a website called Wikiloc detailing thousands of GPX files for runs across the world. Which ever tool you use, try to spread the elevation out, pick gradual climbs rather than steep ones. And avoid low lying ground next to rivers and marshes outside of summer.