Is trail running really that different to running over any other surface? The answer is quite simply, yes! And, ‘of course!’, I hear everyone crying out, loudly!
But how it is different is what we really need to think about, in order to be prepared for running over all those bumps, obstacles, and other things-that-get-in-the-way of the smooth & rolling run we’re on the hunt for.
In an ideal world, we’d have time to ‘pre-run’ all the trails in the world, and imagine if we could use a trail-simulator to practice, just like a racing driver or airline pilot? But that wouldn’t be quite as much fun as getting out there! So sticking to the age old adage, ‘practice makes perfect’ there is often nothing better for trail running than trail running. But there are a few steps we can take before we hit the trails to prepare for the unevenness, obstacles, roots and rocks.
The first step is to think about how you might react to the potential obstacles that are going to be literally ‘in‘ your path – compared to a road run. Rocks and roots stick up, out of the ground, which necessitates a slightly higher foot-lift to clear the obstacle, or maybe even a side-step. This is where core and glute muscle strength come into play – helping you move more freely, with less fatigue.
Secondly, to find that ‘glide’ along a trail requires finding a line, a smooth path through a tricky section. Maybe follow someone’s feet, or think like a mountain biker, ‘where am I going‘, which will help to avoid braking (which uses the quads) for obstacles, and assist you with just rolling along the trail. Less ‘braking’ with the quads helps to preserve them, and avoid the typical DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – that so often plagues runners after a demanding running event.
In conjunction with the second point above, finding the glide, we can turn to the yoga tool-box for extra trail running tips, and taking some advice from Sage Rountree, we can look at the 3D’s of trail running:
1. Dharana – single pointed concentration. Focusing our attention to just one thing, one activity, can be difficult, but concentration is especially important in trail running to make sure we are in tune with our surroundings, and our body. Sage recommends finding a mantra to concentrate upon, maybe a phrase or just one word. Read this post about mantras for a few suggestions: MANTRAS.
2. Drishti – moving focal point. Once our ability to concentrate has been honed, we can then add in a visual point to focus upon, a gazing point or drishti. In a yoga class a teacher may often ask you to find a drishti point during a balancing pose, and the same can be practiced whilst trail running. Focus on the trail a few feet ahead, where your gaze naturally lands, and then zone into it, concentrating on the moving point infront of you as you run. This may sound tricky, so just practice at first for a few minutes at a time, building up to a mile, then a section of trail. The idea is to stay relaxed and not concentrate so hard that we start scowling at the trail!
3. Diyana – meditative awareness, ‘flow’. Finding the flow state is what we’re all after, and I’m sure everyone can recall a run when everything just seemed easy, a race when everything just clicked. Flow is always closer at hand once the above two stages, dharana and drishti, start to feel natural. But the trick is this:
“When you find yourself in the flow state, don’t over think things. Practice appreciating the moment without attachment because the more you cling to the experience, the more fleeting it becomes.” Sage Rountree.
This weekend at the next HURT race in the series, it became apparent more than ever to me how finding a line, and concentration are especially important to trail running when the weather conditions are trying! At the HURT Firecracker race around Kaena Point, possibly my favourite place on Oahu, the flat, exposed course called for an all together different approach to running than the usual shaded ‘hills’ of the inland trail system. The area is open to the elements, and on Saturday morning, even by the 7am start time, the sun was up. Hydration was going to important, and the race directors required everyone to carry water. In an attempt to practice drinking-on-the-hoof with my running hydration pack, despite the race only being ten miles, I had filled it up with some nuun electrolyte (Cherry Limeade), and tried to sip frequently throughout the race.
The course was a mixture of 4WD dirt roads, sand and foot paths, with manned-gates to keep non-native species out of the bird sanctuary, that forms the western most point of Oahu. Setting out I kept reminding myself, “It’s 10miles, and it’s going to get hot, pace yourself…”, but by the half way turn around point, where the beautiful volunteers handed out icy cold water – that I just dunked over my head – I felt my pace was appropriate and I could settle into a steady rhythm to finish – which required utmost concentration as the course headed straight into the sun over the last two miles. But, as with every HURT race, it’s not all over ’til the fat lady sings, and the final part of the course took runners down on to sand, and then back up a steep dirt hill to cross the finish line.
After the race all the runners hung out for a while to talk story/ run chat, and two awesome race reviews are up on I Run In A Skirt, and Run Like A Mother. The Hawaii trail running crowd are fun and enthusiastic, so much so that many also took part in the North Shore Swim at Waimea Bay – officially, and um, unofficially on our own (the sea is a great post-race healer).
In other news, LRY has been reading about Zoe Romano who is currently running the course of the Tour de France: READ ABOUT HER INCREDIBLE STRENGTH HERE.
And very soon we will be relaunching this website, but until then…