Ten tips for better technical trail running
A big reason why I believe many people are drawn to trail running is the challenge and variety that you get from running out on the trails. It makes it so much more interesting being out in nature as opposed to pounding the miles out on the tar road. We also get a bit more of an adrenaline rush when traversing over technical trails, something that can get quite addictive.
Everyone has varying skills and abilities when it comes to technical trail running, but one thing’s for sure, and that is there will always be room for improvement. So whether you want to get more confident traversing the trails, so that you can take on more challenging terrain or if you want to hone your skills even further, in this weeks 10 Tip Tuesday segment we will give some advice on technical trail running.
1- Detach from time and distance
Letting go of any attachments that you may have in your mind about finishing the your run in a certain time or going a certain distance, can be a great way of bringing your focus onto what is most important: The terrain that is in in your next stride.
Putting this added pressure on yourself may lead you to become distracted and allow mistakes and errors to creep in. By constantly checking your watch to check splits and distance, it increases the probability of falling and getting tripped up on the terrain.
Focus on the moment, detach yourself from time and distance outcomes and just thinking about taking the very next best stride. Over a long enough time this will become second nature to you and you can run on autopilot.
2 – Focus on balance during trail running
It goes without saying that you don’t want to find yourself on the ground on a trail run, to prevent this from happening, you need to stay on your own two feet. Being mindful of your center of gravity during your runs will go a long way to helping you stay balanced and centered when running over tricky terrain.
Learn to be able to “feel” your center of gravity. While focusing on this during your run, you will be able to feel the limits of when you are becoming destabilized. When you feel yourself reach these limits, slow down and reset, reigning in your center of balance and get back into a rhythm.
3 – Add exercises that improve proprioception in your joints
This is something that can be done when you are not out on the trails. A routine that you can add to strength and conditioning program at the gym, or even something you can do before going to bed or upon waking up in the morning.
Proprioception is the physical awareness of your body as it is placed in space in time. Proprioception is a process. The internal feedback used to control this process is received from proprioceptors, which are located in skeletal muscle fibers, tendons and fibrous membranes within your joint capsules.
A short, focused program of proprioception exercises once or twice a week can go along well to improve your overall balance in general, especially if you target the ankles and knees. Overall balance improvements will translate into improvements in your technical running abilities.
4 – Reign in your stride length
The ideal state you want to be is as fluid and light as possible. Visualize yourself floating of the terrain, and this is how you ideally want to be moving in the real world. By shortening your stride length, it will allow you to have more control and decrease the contact that your feet make with the ground.
Aim for maximum fluidity and try reach a rhythm which avoids heavy stop and go movements. While you might feel that shortening your stride length may decrease your speed, remember the point about focusing on the technique and the process rather than the outcome. Once you get more comfortable with floating and flying over the terrain, then try experiment with cadence in order to get your speed up. The faster you those legs are turning over the faster you will be moving.
5 – Choose the best trail running footwear
Considering that during trail running you will be putting your feet through the mills, it makes a lot of sense to invest in a pair of shoes that give you maximum comfort and supreme confidence. Getting the proper gear is essential in the footwear department, and will definitely be a factor in your technical abilities.
The tread or lugs on your shoe are very different to road running shoes and allow you to get a stable footing and grip when you are climbing on rocks and need to the traction on the descent. Good tread patterns also allow you to navigate through muddy terrain.
It’s important to note that you get a
6 – Sight your line and commit
A real good strategy is to quickly take in your surroundings at a glance and make decision on the best line to run through. This will obviously will get better with more experience, but for now get into the habit of looking 2-4m in front of you and focus on scanning for the path of least resistance.
7 – Be observant of your surroundings
It seems on obvious thing to say, but being acutely aware of what the terrain is doing and how it is changing, will give you more time to make better decisions as well as to plan ahead. By being extremely observant and staying alert you will start recognising patterns in the terrain and your body will quickly develop the most efficient strategy to move through the terrain.
By getting into the habit of getting into a state of intense concentration, you will find that these skills become second nature and you can tackle technical terrain during trail running without much conscious effort. You may even find that you enter the “flow” state, whereby you become completely absorbed into the moment and you are operating at peak performance.
8 – The goal should be to finish
As mentioned earlier, I suggest that you align your goals so that they become congruent with finishing your runs safely and with good technique before trying to aim for speed. Each time you go out on the trails, you have an opportunity to hone your skills and better your technique, focus on the moment and enjoy the process. The pace and distance is secondary to this.
Once you have done a particular trail a few times, and the terrain becomes more familiar, then it could be a chance for you to open the throttles up and do some speed work. If you are taking on new terrain, take it easy and focus on finishing.
9 – Incremental progression
As with any new or challenging endeavor, we are very enthusiastic about getting started and excited about the new environment. This initial energy can quickly get dissipated if you set unrealistic expectations on yourself.
By choosing to take on advanced terrain and trails when you are still starting out, you are not doing yourself any favours. Instead, commit to long term consistency. Focus on incremental progression. Start with where you are comfortable and gradually begin to increase the technical difficulty of the routes that you choose to run. Each time try and push the limit over time, and if this done consistently, over time you see your performance improve drastically.
10 – Adaption
The last point, and slightly contradictory to the previous point, the last tip I have for you is to understand the principle of adaptation. While I mentioned in the last point that you should take it slow and steady, I want to remind with this last tip to make sure you don’t take it too slow.
By never expanding your comfort zone and pushing the limits of what you think you can accomplish you will never see the improvement, but rather a plateau. The human body, especially the skeletal system functions well and adapts when it subjective to a slightly taxing load and challenge. Find the balance between incremental progression and adaptation and you will have found the sweet spot where you see the most improvement.
Remember everyone is unique, so run your own race and focus on finding your own limits and ways to push the limits just a little bit each time you go out and hit the trails.
I hope that these tips have been able to give you a few tools to add to your arsenal and give you something to think about when you are out there trail running. Let me know what you think by commenting below. I would also be very interested to find out more about what you guys and girls have up your sleeves when it comes to tackling the tough terrain on trail running routes. So tell us more about your own tips and tricks.
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Yours in wellness,