Trail running has boomed in popularity in recent years. A handful of years ago, it was a fairly obscure sport with a small but dedicated group of fans. Today, it is one of the fastest growing sectors of the running world, with new events popping up all over the globe, and big brand companies like Salomon and Hoka One One sponsoring race teams to travel the world.
The distances of trail events vary from 5km right through to 250km multi-day stage races, and terrain varies from gently undulating forestry tracks, through to steep, technical alpine single tracks with as much as 16,000m of climbing in a single event.
That’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice!
If you’ve been thinking about getting out for a trail run, or have friends trying to convince you to join them, you should definitely give it a go. It can be a whole different experience than running on the road.
How do you know if trail running is for you?
Trail running, in theory, is for everyone. If you believe evolutionary scientists’ opinion that humans have evolved to be long distance running machines, then trail running makes a lot of sense. They tell us that back in our caveman days, we used to chase animals for days across the African savannah. According to these scientists, it is our ability to run long distances, which kept our species alive.
There are a number of factors you should take into consideration if you are wondering whether you should take the plunge and start trail running.
An Exciting Change
Are you lacking motivation or losing enthusiasm with your current training and racing regime?
The old saying that ‘a change is as good as a holiday’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to getting on the trails. You will experience different places, different scenery and possibly different running companions. It might be the perfect way to renew your motivation in 2017
Have you been struggling with injuries or niggles lately?
Trail running is a lot more forgiving on the body for most people. Most running injuries are caused by repetition (i.e., the same stride pattern repeated thousands of times). Running on trails breaks up your stride pattern, there will be long strides, short strides, wide strides and high strides, depending on the nature of the terrain. This means you are loading your muscles and joints slightly differently each time you land, therefore less chance of an overuse (repetition) injury.
Great Reason to Travel
Would you like an excuse to travel to some beautiful parts of the globe?
Trail runs tend to be in National Parks or other areas of scenic beauty. They are often in fairly secluded locations that very few people ever get to see. If you want to combine traveling, running and visiting some spectacular natural environments – what better way to do it?
Would you like to meet a friendly and welcoming community of like-minded runners?
Trail running events tend to have a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere compared to road runs. It is as much about being surrounded by nature and competing against the elements, as it is racing each other. If you roll an ankle, or run out of water out on the trails, your fellow competitors will stop and help you, rather than jump over you in the race to the finish line.
A warning, however, to any would-be trail runners — it is very addictive. A high percentage of runners who make the switch to trails never go back. If you’ve got your heart set on a 5km PB, or a sub 3-hour marathon, you might find that your goals change once you’re on the trails.
How to Get Started with Trail Running
What do you need to know for your first trail run?
Don’t jump straight in at the deep end. This should be pretty obvious, but if you haven’t run on trails before, don’t start with a long or technical route. Ease yourself into it gently, ideally with people familiar with the trails, so that you enjoy and appreciate those first few runs.
Even if you have run several road marathons, you will be surprised how tiring you will initially find running even 10km on a technical trail. There is a lot more concentration required as you watch where you are putting your feet. Road runners find this exhausting in the initial stages. Like everything in life, practice makes perfect, so it is something you adapt to and improve at with time.
Trail Running Footwear
Do you need different shoes?
When you first get started on the trails, you can wear your existing road shoes. Trail shoes have significantly more tread and better grip than road shoes, but otherwise, they are essentially the same. Once you get the ‘bug’ and run more and more trails, you can decide whether to invest in a pair of trail shoes.
How to Train for Trail Running
Do you need to train differently?
Initially your training can remain the same (assuming you don’t start with a hard, hilly and technical trail). If you can comfortably run 15km on the road, then you could jump straight into a 10km trail run and have the fitness to enjoy it.
You are likely to encounter significantly more hills on the trails than you will be used to on the road. If trail running is something you are going to stick with, then training on hilly routes, and incorporating some hill repeats into your weekly program would be beneficial.
Trail Running Technique
Do you run with different technique on trails?
The same basic principles of good running technique apply just as much on trails as they do on the road.
- Upright posture
- Short strides
- High cadence
Although more forgiving on overuse injuries, the hilly terrain and irregular stride pattern of trail running means you put your muscles and joints through a bigger range of motion. Having efficient gluteal muscles, and sufficient flexibility and mobility in your hips is very useful to be able to maintain good trail running technique.
What About Ankle Injuries?
One of the most common injuries in trail running is a sprained ankle. If you have had a history of ankle sprains, you should look into strapping techniques or ankle braces for your first few runs. As you get used to running trails and start developing more strength in the lower leg and ankles, you might find you can gradually wean yourself off the strapping or bracing.
Give it a try!
Trail running can open up a whole new world of excitement, friendship and a passion for the great outdoors. If you haven’t yet been lucky enough to experience the thrill of running through nature – then you should definitely give it a try.
Last updated on January 9th, 2019.