10 Trail Running Top Tips

What makes a good trail runner an even better one?

We came across this superb article on our never ending search for trail running key abilities and tactics. My, does it have stacks of great advice, or what! Read on, we’ve filtered out the salient points and serve them ice-cold, ready to be consumed without any added frills or distractions.

More good stuff:

  1. Uphill and downhill running form: this is how you get faster.
  2. How to run up hills and not get tired
  3. How to run downhill efficiently – and fast


Image: Zout Fotografie

Lesley Paterson, star of the Xterra Trail Run Series, spills the beans on how she’s become such an expert at trail running.

#1: Running Fast on Trails

Running fast on trails is completely different than running on roads or any flat surface. When you’re training and racing on trails, your movement and your gait are varied all the time. You have to have strong ankles, a strong pivot point, a strong core, and strong hips to be able to navigate rocks and bound off of them and dance around obstacles so you don’t get injured, but also not to take too much energy from your body.

#2: Fartlek Training

Fartlek training is really good. I do a workout called “over-unders,” where you’re running just above your anaerobic threshold and then just below it. You’re constantly pushing those boundaries and continually going over the red line and coming back. ……….

#3: Hill Repeats

22117200968_02db574fbf_bHill repeats are a great drill for building strength and you can do them on road or you can do them off-road. You can do them all different times of the year with a different emphasis. In the offseason, I’ll do them with a lower heart-rate and focus on high-knee drive and engage all of those muscles as a strength component rather than a cardio component. I’ll also do bounding up a hill, which is almost like a plyometric drill up a very steep hill. They’re a controlled effort that really works the calves and feet. During the race season, I’ll pick up the pace and do sprints uphills and threshold workouts up hills. Strength is the basis for all of those kinds of workouts, but you can vary the intensity depending on the time of the season.

#4: Tempo Run

Try to find a trail that will mimic your race course and do a long run of about 90 minutes and do a 30-minute tempo effort on that trail after that so you’re teaching your body how to deal with the fatigue of being on a trail and still being able to maneuver around that trail. That creates strength if you’re doing at the end of a long run.

#5: Intervals 

heart-971714_960_720I think one of the hardest things in trail races is that you run an uphill and your legs are smashed, but then you hit a downhill hard and your legs are like jelly. Then you do another uphill and you’re like, “What the heck?” But you can train to improve on the same kind of terrain. Depending on the course you’re running, you should work over a hill and down the other side so you’re mirroring what’s going to happen in the race. During a race, if you work the uphill, you don’t just give up at the end of the hill, you get into a quick stride over the top of the hill and try to maintain your cadence. For example, I’ll have my athletes do a 4-minute interval on a hill, where it’s 2 minutes up a hill and 2 minutes down the back side of that hill. There are also some great intervals you can do where you run down a hill to start, then up a hill.

#6: Leg Turnover

15317-a-healthy-young-woman-running-outdoors-on-a-track-pv-2I do a lot of track work in the weeks before a race to get more leg speed and leg turnover. Sometimes when you’re on the trails, I think it’s easy to lull yourself into a false sense of security as to where your fitness really is or lull yourself into a pace that is less than what you’re capable of running. You need quick leg turnover to keep your timing sharp, even if you can’t run with that same fast turnover on a trail. There are times you need it, though, and if you don’t train for it, you won’t have it. So that’s why it’s still important to run fast on the track and road while you’re training for a trail race.

Related: Why every runner should train for a (half or full) marathon

 #7: Tracking Trail Volume

I don’t track the miles I run on trails. You can never really get a consistent measure of how far you’re running, especially when you compare that to how far you might run on roads. I measure my running by time on my feet, not by pace or even distance. Pace is mostly irrelevant on the trails. I started trail running when I was about 11 years old with my dad over the fells in Scotland. In 2 hours, you might only cover 10 miles, but boy it sure is a hard 2 hours.

#8: Cross-Training for Trail Running

I do a lot of CrossFit functional strength work like box jumps, single-leg hops, lunges in all different planes of motion, medicine ball tossing and other exercises that engage all of the muscles in all different ways. When you hit the side of a trail or the side of a rock at a different angle, you’re using a whole different set of muscles. So you need to be versatile and efficient to be able to do that and spring off that into your next stride. ………

Related: The healing power of cross training

#9: Running Form

From a balance point of view, when I run on trails, I tend to use my arms and have my arms out to the side so I can flail them a little bit in a bit of a circular motion. Practice a couple of techniques like that when you’re running downhill. Your body position and having enough of a forward lean is important. You don’t want to be jamming on the breaks when you’re running downhill, because that’s really going to damage the muscles and throw you off. If you have too much of a forward lean, that’s going to throw you off because you’re going to create too much speed.

Related: Running form – correct technique and tips to run faster

#10: Recovery

x-bionix-socks-zoomI wear a lot of compression apparel after workout for the rest of the day. I always use Podium Legs at night and, for circulation purposes, I also vary back and forth between ice baths and hot baths and do a lot of stretching as well. And, then, of course, I always address it through proper hydration and fueling, before, during and after a race or workout.

Related: What to eat (and not eat) before your run.

Read the full Competitor article here.

Featured image source.

…tracking what you’re achieving is a lot easier if you’ve got the right IT stuff: is this your excuse for that brand new Chromebook?

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