If you love running and nature, chances are that you may love trail running too. Radhika Meganathan explores the process of training for a trail run.
Perhaps the only thing that might top runner’s high is runner’s high at an altitude! Trail running involves running on natural terrain, usually on mountainous hiking trails, and offers many benefits such as less impact on the body, increased variety, and the filling of your senses with natural beauty. From the book The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, to be qualified as a “trail” it should possess:
- Natural elements and obstacles (such as winding woods, trees, waterways etc.)
- significant ascents and descents (i.e. elevation gain/loss)
- Scenic beauty.
So, even a paved car track can be known as a trail if it is located on a beautiful hilly terrain! Nevertheless, a nature trail is completely different from, say, your friendly neighbourhood park, so here is a primer on what you need to know about Train Running 101.
Understand your trail
Firstly, one size does not fit all when it comes to trails. Your training plan should consider altitude, overall elevation change, and course the nature of the trail itself. Is it rocky, mossy, clay soil? Hilly, or flat? Sharp turns or loose gravel? Did you come across it during a holiday (or hear about it from someone) and plan to go there soon? Or, are you lucky enough to live near a nature trail, in which case you can train real time, regularly? Knowing your goals and accessibility options beforehand will tremendously help you in getting a trail-running plan drafted.
Reset your expectations
When you transition from running on flat, concrete surface to dirt and grass, it changes the way you pace and balance yourself, and gives you a set of new challenges. Your trail path will be uneven, gravelly and sticky alternatively, and make you twist and turn more frequently than ever. To prepare to handle all this and avoid injuring yourself, it is essential to train the right way. Both attitude and altitude adjustment is required! Your pace will slow down, so don’t expect to have the same speed as before. Patience and a willingness to relearn is key.
Get appropriate gear
If you plan to run on trails regularly, getting a trail running kit is essential. When you run through non-urban spaces (or middle of the forests!), you don’t want to be stuck without a torch or food, so you may need to consider investing in a bag to carry water, food, or extra layers. Though you can use normal sports shoes to run on a trail, it may be a better idea to invest in special trail running shoes, whose treads offer better grip, safeguard you more effectively from slippery surfaces and have more features to protect you against elements such as rocks and roots.
Self-styled or trail training lessons
There are thousands of trail runners all over the world who run without any professional help, as even the freshest novice can start running after doing proper research and investing in the right gear/footwear. But still, if your trail is not a walk in the park (pun intended) or if you have any physical or mental restrictions that may prevent you from successfully completing a trail run, it may be a good idea to get some expert training, at least in the initial stage.
You can request a consultation at your local gym, or connect with local hiking/mountaineering organisations where you can meet with fellow runners and compare notes and more. You may even sign up with a running buddy or learn about a hitherto unexplored trail for your debut run!