Road running consists of running through suburbs, cities, parks and paths that have two things in common: asphalt and concrete. Nearly all of my training and races involve road running; however, recently I’ve gotten in touch with nature and headed out onto the trails. Trail running is the opposite of road running: it consists of dirt, gravel, pine needles, rocks, roots, and even water. If you’re a roadrunner like me and want to hit the trails for a challenge, here are some helpful hints to make your transition a safe and enjoyable one.
The sneakers you normally use on the road will not cut it out on the trails, especially if those trails have a lot of rocks and scree. A good pair of trail runners will need to have deep tread to grip slippery rocks and dig into the gravel surfaces. They’re usually more rigid (less flexible) than a road shoe in order to give your ankles the support you’ll need when navigating the terrain, including climbing up rocky elevations. Some trail shoes are also water-resistant, which will keep your feet dry when crossing waterways, sometimes found on trails.
BALANCE AND CORE WORK
Being prepared to run on uneven surfaces will take some extra preparation. In order to safely navigate a technical trail, you’ll need to first strengthen your ankles, glutes, and core with some key balance exercises. Using a BOSU ball and concentrating on single leg balance will help tremendously, since it mimics the uneven terrain of a trail and challenges both your lower extremity muscles as well as your core. You can also add in lunges, squats, and jump-overs on the BOSU. If you don’t have access to the BOSU, you can use a firm couch cushion. Adding planks to your routine can also strengthen your core, keeping you upright and less fatigued through the challenging terrain. Doing extra balance work prior to hitting the trails will reduce your risk of rolling an ankle or losing your balance on a downhill scramble.
SLOW YOUR PACE AND PAY ATTENTION
The key difference between road running and trails is that you can’t expect to run the same pace out on the trails as you do on the road. Trail running will require a slower pace and possibly some walking at times. Faced with a steep rocky downhill scramble or a path that is covered with dangerous roots and rocks, you’ll need to pay attention in order to carefully navigate it. Slowing down on the trail is key. Taking your eyes off the trail, even, for a moment, might be enough to end up tripping. It takes switching your mindset from your usual mile-per-minute pace to a much slower one, which might be difficult at first, but necessary to safely run a trail. My suggestion is to leave the watch at home and enjoy the freedom to ‘play’ in nature.
Preparing to be out on the trail requires a new set of basic supplies. Bug repellent is at the top of the list during most seasons. Carrying a small first aid kit with you can come in handy, since falls are very possible. Get one that also has blister pads. A good pair of crew socks, specific to trail running, will keep dirt and debris from getting in your shoes. Some trails are extremely technical with steep climbing that might require walking/hiking poles. A fuel vest can also be a key piece of trail gear, allowing you to carry your hydration and fuel hands-free.
Transitioning from road running to trails doesn’t have to be a challenge. All it takes is proper preparation, extra balance work, and the right gear to make it a smooth one. But be warned, once you get started, you might find yourself getting lost in Nature’s peacefulness and not want to return to the road.
Happy Running —