The elements that most trail runners love are usually the same elements that separate trail running from running on the road. They are what draws many to the sport and at the same time they can be a little intimidating for others looking to try out the trails. Lets take a look and see if we can offer some tips to make the transition from road to trail as fun as possible.
Road running can be very time focused. People often ask someone what their marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K time is, as a way of measuring someone to see where they’re at. In trail running every course is different and that makes every race time for the same distance different. They are also not usually flat. So if you are coming from a road background with a 10K PR (Personal Record) of 50 minutes, it's best to leave expectations of beating it or coming close at home. Trail Running is a different game. Also the trail running community (or at least the one we try to cultivate) is focused a lot on fun more so than it is on time.
Tip: If you're new to trail running leave time expectations at home and bring your smile instead. Run by feel more so than pace and understand that the terrain will often determine your speed. Keep in mind too a slower run means more fuel/electrolytes may be needed. Factor this in when planning your run or race.
While we’re talking about terrain lets talk about hills. We love them. For all but the elite it's an opportunity to walk or power hike, and give your legs a rest. Trail Running is a sport where walking sometimes is just par for the course. Don’t feel bad, we all do it. Saving your legs for the end of the race is the wise decision that many of us find difficult to make, even the veterans. Also what goes up, must come down. In a long tough trail race with lots of long climbs, runners are often cursing the climbs early in the race only to wish they were climbing late in the race. Why is that? The downhills. Many even experienced trail runners have a love/hate relationship with the downhills. They can be super fun early on and painful towards the end of the race.
Tip: We could write a whole post about climbing and descending (If you’d be interested in that, send us an email or contact us on Facebook), for now lets keep it simple. Whether you're going up or down, you want to have a short stride. Imagine climbing a big hill in the granny gear of your mountain bike. Small, short easy strides. Try to stand up tall as much as you can so that you can still breathe properly. When it comes to the downhills, a short stride and a fast turnover is the best way to avoid muscle fatigue in your legs and a fall. Try to stay relaxed and avoid the natural instinct to lean back. This will elongate your stride and increase the pounding on your legs. Don’t forget to smile, it helps you stay relaxed.
When you are flying on the road your gait seldom changes and the distance you travel with each stride is usually longer. When you hit the trails it’s almost the complete opposite. The terrain is seldom flat and usually there are obstacles. You are constantly making adjustments to your gait and stride length to match the grade and surface you are running on.
Tip: Shorten up your stride and turn it over quickly. This allows for the greatest amount of adjustment on the fly and also reduces time on support (weighted time on the ground). When you reduce your time on support you are able to also reduce the load that you apply to your feet. This in turn allows you to flow more easily through obstacles with minimum impact on your body and less chance of rolling an ankle when landing on an object.
When you are out on the road and you can see a mile ahead, it’s very easy to switch off from running and start thinking. The project at work, what you are going to have for dinner, your relationship, whatever. Sometimes we do our best thinking when a small part of our brain is occupied with running. Turn the switch off when you are on the trail and it’s a recipe for eating dirt. Personally whenever I get too deep in thought while trail running, literally the moment I notice how deep in thought I am, I trip. Most of the time I’m able to catch the fall, recover, and then I say to myself “pay attention”. The beauty of trail running is that it’s almost a forced consciousness or meditation, especially on the sorts of trails we like to include in our races. We become present, we are right there in the moment, dancing and flowing through the trails, there is nothing else.
Tip: Leave the music at home, leave the worries at home, be present, stay focused, stay upright and enjoy being out in nature.
We’re not saying that road running isn’t fun, but we also didn’t start a road running company ;) Being out in nature has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and make people happier. We are meant to be out in nature. Running through the trees and getting dirty we return to our childlike selves. We enjoy flying down the hills, hooting and hollering. We run for fun.
Tip: Don’t take trail running too seriously, it’s meant to be fun. Whether you achieve what you set out to or not, you hopefully still had a wonderful time exploring nature.
Trail running can sometimes be more about going into nature and learning. You might see something new, have a unique wilderness experience and you will definitely learn something about yourself. Trail running can take you yo some amazing places.
Trail Running might be more about community than it actually is about running, and it’s why we love it. Personally some of my best friends have come from trail running and I have never been more welcomed with open arms than I have in trail running. Trail running is full of good people. The fact that the courses are harder slows us down and we inevitably end up running with a person or two that we can have a chat with. The sport can be very challenging and it’s in times of struggle that we come together to support each other and create these bonds that last a lifetime.
Tip: Make a friend. Introduce yourself, before the race, during the race, after the race, whenever. We’re all in this together, all trying to make it to the finish line. I know for a fact that I personally wouldn’t have made it to many finish lines without the support of a friend I made out on the trail during a race.
There’s lots of great reasons to hit the trails. We hope that if you are gearing up for your first trail race with UpRiver this fall or thinking about signing up that this information was helpful.
Thank You so much for your support, we truly appreciate it.
Have a wonderful run today