It’s difficult to define what being a “better” trail runner means. For some it means faster, for others it means further. For me it means using running as a method to move through places where there isn’t a made up pathway. Whilst lots of people have written about performance, I’m going to go all “Point Break” and this is about being a better “soul” trail runner. That is trail running just for the love of it.
1. Running at night makes you focus on the bubble of your headtorch light. The lack of depth perception and more confusing shadows means your foot placement will not always be as certain.
2. Leaning forwards downhill gives you more grip. If your body is perpendicular to the ground your contact patch (between the sole of your shoe and the ground) is bigger. Bigger contact patch = less chance of slipping.
3. Understand maps, reading a map is different to looking at a map. Maps let you see the terrain and do lots of mental preparation before you get on the trail. On open ground Google Earth is a great visualisation tool, but it’s not reliable as a source whilst out running. Get a detailed map of your local countryside that you know already, teach yourself what those features look like when drawn and what different map scales look like too.
4. Look around more. Trail running is always beautiful, looking at the view is an important way to relax your mind. Reminding yourself of the environment you’re running through will make sure you respect it, and sometimes how vulnerable you are.
5. Core strength exercises make running uphill, cross slope and uneven surfaces easier. The more control you have of your mass the less energy, physical and mental, you’ll spend running. Kettlebell swings, press ups, rowing in fact anything that engages your core will make you a better trail runner.
6. Flexibility exercises make bouncing from the inevitable fall or injury more likely. Even 5 minutes a day will make a noticeable difference. Don’t do stretches on cold muscles.
7. Proprioception makes you like a mountain goat and less likely to turn an ankle. Standing on a wobble board with your eyes shut is the best way to learn this. Start holding onto something about nipple high!
8. Sleep on the trail, doesn’t mean running miles, but learning to be part of the environment you’re running through might pay off in an emergency. Most big accidents due to bad conditions or injuries are caused by people panicking. Being confident to stop and rest is a key skill for running remote trails.
9. Shorten and lengthen your stride. Track runners do their thing on a flat, uniform surface. On trails the surface changes, the gradient changes and so should your stride length. Short quick steps going uphill is like a low gear on a bike, whilst long loping downhill strides are the runners equivalent of freewheeling. Experiment on the same bit of trail and find what works for you.
10. Think trail, this is in addition to reading maps. Visualize your run. Think about key points-top of climbs, feed points, views, navigation handrails, escape routes or points of interest. Trail running is as much mental as physical, so thinking about it is really important.
11. Trail running is the best thing to do to make you better at trail running. So stop reading, go run!