If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool townie, isn’t it time you thought about taking your running to the trails?
Running over hills, through mud and around trees is, inevitably, going to reduce your speed. Your first proper trail running venture will probably have you puffing more than usual, but it can be made easier by simply adjusting your pace. After a few runs, as you find your rhythm and confidence, you can pick it up a bit. But it’s important to note that for many, the beauty of trail running is its peaceful detachment from the competitive, time-based world of road running.
Eyes on the ground
Think of the trail as nature’s obstacle course. Even well-worn routes can spring a few nasty surprises for the unsuspecting runner. While road runners are often taught to look at an imaginary horizon, aim to keep your eyes fixed at a point five to six metres ahead of you. Of course, take in the scenery when possible, but to avoid rogue roots, ensure you’ve planned several steps ahead.
Although you’re likely to slow down up the hills, try your best to maintain flat-level cadence. Aside from efficiency (long, lunging strides will tire you out in no time), quick steps help to protect your joints; by keeping your feet underneath your frame, less pressure is exerted onto the ankles and knees. Keep your back straight and convert to a mid/forefoot strike in order to bounce up the hill.
Out and back
To begin with, avoid going on a circular route, as there’s no telling how long it will take you or, indeed, how easy it will be to follow. Street names and road signs are decidedly absent on trails and, until you’re familiar with your surroundings, turning right at the seventeenth Sycamore isn’t that simple. Running for a set time and turning back on yourself eliminates the possibility of an S.O.S call to your nearest and dearest. Which reminds me: take a phone!
The benefits of cross-training cannot be overstated. Unlike road running, the challenge of the trail is in the inconsistent terrain and natural obstacles that lie in wait (rocks, puddles, hills etc). Therefore, your muscles need to be ready for sudden changes in direction, speed and elevation. Bodyweight leg exercises, such as single leg squats, lunges and box jumps will prepare your glutes and hamstrings for the added strain. Balancing on a wobble board is also a great way to improve ankle stability.