From the moment my old worn down Asics hit the dirt trail for the first time, I knew right then and there that my running would never be the same.
As someone who had been running and training on roads for a good while before discovering the trails, it took some real adjustment before I could feel comfortable on this new terrain.
I have written extensively about how trail running can make any runner a stronger runner, and how important the change of pace can be for both the body and the mind, but it isn’t very often I talk about how that transition from road to dirt isn’t always easy.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my transition, and I’m still learning how to be a stronger runner every time I go out, but I believe a few key lessons can help the beginning trail runner get the hang of the new sport much faster. Below I’ll dive into what I believe are the 6 things everyone should know before hitting the trail.
1) Slow down
If you have read just about any post I’ve written on trail running, slowing down is often the first things I mention. Your times and pace on the road should never be compared to your time and pace on the trail.
Trail running means running with a different focus and a different form. You can’t expect to run as fast on a rocky, rooty trail as you can on a nice smooth road. When going out on the trail, adjust your speed to what feels comfortable and appropriate for your trail workout. Even if you aren’t going as fast, you are still using the same (if not more) amount of energy. Trying to keep that same pace will either cause an injury or cause you to burn out quickly.
2) Hills on trails are often more frequent and steeper
Road hills can be treacherous, but let’s face it, they aren’t ever that steep. And for good reason. Trails are a different story.
They can be as steep as the blazer wants them to be. They can go straight up, straight down, around a tree, or around a mountain. Trails can change moment to moment, or climb steady for miles.
Trails are their own beast and runners should be prepared.
3) Lift those feet
This might seem like a no-brainer, but the trail is a different terrain than the pavement. Someone once told me that Americans are some of the clumsiest people in the world because we are so used to smooth sidewalks and roads. Just watch people as they are going over a bumpy sidewalk, they will start tripping all over the place.
When it comes to trials we have the same problem. We are often so used to running on smooth roads that the bumpy singletrack can be incredibly difficult to stay upright on. Teach yourself how to lift your feet and prepare for the different terrain.
I learned this lesson the hard way, having fallen dozens of times on the trails of Rock Creek Park. Bruises, cuts, wounds and twisted ankles have all come from me not lifting my feet properly. The more time I spend on the trail, the less I find myself falling. It is only when I stop paying attention and quit lifting my feet that I find myself eating dirt.
4) Don’t be afraid to hike
I know, walking when you should be running? Not cool.
Turns out that isn’t really the case with trail running. Because the trails are often much steeper, it can at times be more efficient to walk than run up a section of trail.
I remember watching people do this during my first trail race and thinking all the other runners were out of shape. When I burnt out well before the finish and they flew past me, it clicked that I had been mistaken.
Throw your hands on your knees, and powerhike up the hill. No one will judge, I promise.
5) You might need new gear
I know, running should be simple, right? Especially trail running.
But sometimes you just need to take appropriate precautions. The nature of running through the woods instead of on the road means that sometimes you are left with fewer resources. Bringing water and food along with you on long trail runs is usually a good idea. (Check out my favorites: the Nathan Quick Draw and the Nathan Race Vest).
If trail running becomes a staple in your routine, you might want to consider trail shoes. Trail shoes are often made from tougher materials than road shoes, and are built to withstand the extra wear and tear. Sometimes they are made with a rock plate in the sole to help protect the feet against bruising, and often they have a different type of sole, designed to maintain grip on the rocks and dirt better than a traditional road shoe.
Road shoes can be used on the trail, trail shoes can be used on the road, but if you are running mostly on one rather than the other, it is worth considering when purchasing your next pair.
6) Tell Someone Where You Are
Trail running is oftentimes more secluded and dangerous than its road counterpart. The last thing you want to do is get lost or fall and break something with no one around. Tell your husband, wife, or roommate where you are going and when you plan to return. If you are out in the middle of nowhere and plan to be gone for a long time, it never hurts to leave a note in the dashboard of your car stating which trail you are headed out on and roughly when you plan to get back.
Chances are nothing will happen, but it is much better to be safe than sorry.
Trail running has set my running free, and I hope that it can do the same for you. With these 6 simple tips, I hope that your learning curve is a little smaller than mine. Now be safe and see you in the woods.
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source: Rock Creek Runner