Now that you’ve been running for a while and are comfortable logging 10-13 miles on the road, it might be time to consider shaking things up. It will take time and proper training to increase race speed, but getting off the road and onto the trails could provide a great new challenge – and a chance for camaraderie that road races sometimes lack.
Here are a few basic tips that you’ll want to take into consideration before heading out onto the trails.
Be safe. Heading out into the trees and on the mountain trails leads to unique issues, such as potential injuries in remote areas, weather differences, and tough terrain can be overwhelming. If possible, some of my running buddies recommended pre-race course recon missions on some of the race route.
Uphill and Downhill. If you’re going to run 10+ miles on the trails, it’s inevitable that you’re going to come across an uphill or downhill that you must navigate. Learning how to move on the trail is difficult for the first few miles; you will need to adapt to running surfaces ranging from packed dirt all the way to steep slopes with lose surface.
Carry water, electrolytes, and nutrients with you. Even if there are water fountains, you can’t assume they are working normally. Since you likely won’t have a reliable water source, companies such as Fuel Belt offer water bottle holders and Hydrapak have water reservoir packs that are worth a quick look.
Ignore your typical run times. If you run a 25-minute 5K, you’re probably not going to be able to hit the trails and suddenly meet that mark. Until it’s race day, take your time to adjust to the new running environment – just log the miles and build your trail running base, rather than worrying about your typical training times.
Run a lot. A successful transition to trail running requires a lot of practice and dedication, so don’t be afraid to get out there and log some runs with longer miles. FYI: A long run shouldn’t surpass 30 percent of weekly mileage – but you can break the rule if you aren’t training and running frequently. During your training runs you should be able to have a conversation with a running buddy without forcing your breathing to drastically change.
Gear. Some runners choose to purchase trail running shoes, but they certainly aren’t a requirement. Expect your clothing and anything you bring with you to get banged around and possibly damaged, but, unless you’re sure you like trail running, there isn’t a strong need to spend a lot of money on new running gear.
Strides. Be ready to change your stride, because you’ll have to shorten your stride – aiming to keep your weight over your feet – so you have increased reaction time and balance, in case you end up slipping and sliding. It’s advisable to mix in a few off road miles gradually, helping reduce stress spots on your feet. Take note of everything on the trail, because it’s possible you will need to navigate everything from occasional rocks and tree roots to downed trees or boulders.
Bonus Tip: Don’t forget – HAVE FUN!!!
Trail running – and running in general – is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable event for runners looking to adapt to a new running style. There are a lot of reasons to try a quick break from pounding pavement in favor of heading to the trails for some training runs and races.