AttentionIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about things that deserve more attention throughout the month of October. This week, I would like to start things off by addressing trail running for road runners.

Trail Running
Photo by Paul A. Fagan
Cross country running in high school and college made the Autumn my favorite time of the year. The sport is a lot more fun and takes much less of a toll on the body than track or road running. Since I graduated from college, though, I have only run a few cross country races and have stuck almost exclusively to road training and racing. This summer I have gotten back on the trails, and have even tried a few new things.

Transitioning back to the trails part time has reminded me why I loved running cross country so much. It has also reminded me that trail running requires a different set of skills, especially when running on technical trails or near mountains. So as a road runner that is wanting to move towards trails, keep these tidbits in mind:

  • Migrate to trails slowly. Unless you are really enjoying yourself, in which case feel free to run on them as often as you can.
  • Road shoes are fine for occasional trail use, but you are probably going to want trail shoes after you start running them regularly. Trail shoes can range from lightweight shoes that barely put anything between you and the ground and shoes that are stiffer than anything you would find on the roads. I recommend starting with some shoes that are not too different from what you are used to but just have a more aggressive tread.
  • You are going to fall over. Don’t sweat it; it happens to everyone. Just try to remember not to put your hands out to catch yourself; a bruised shoulder is generally preferable to a broken wrist. One advantage to falling on the trails is that you might fall onto some nice soft dirt. Of course, you might fall on rocks, but dirt and leaves are soft. On the roads, you always fall on asphalt. It is probably worth keeping a first aid kit in your vehicle.
  • Don’t zone out on the run. On the roads, you might go for miles at a time just letting your mind wander and not even notice your surroundings. Sparing a small amount of your attention can keep you from getting hit by a car. On the trails, there will hopefully be no cars. There will, however, be plenty of rocks and roots. You will want to pay attention to where you place your feet. I find trail running much more relaxing because of this.
  • Hills are not limited by what a vehicle can handle. When you are out running in mountainous terrain, you may quickly discover that some trails climb or descend on slopes that are a bit steeper than what you may be used to. Hill running takes a bit more practice off of the roads. On the steeper slopes or if the trail is at all technical, then it is probably worth your time to walk instead of wasting your energy before you have developed the right skills.
  • Do not take large steps or land on your heels. You want to be able to place your foot where it will do the most good, and if you use a large stride length then you will be off balance and have less control over where you land. On the roads, it is easy to suffer from over use injuries from repetitively making the same movements over and over again, which can include over extending yourself. On the trails, you push off at a new angle every step or three, and poor running form makes your run much more difficult than it would be on the roads. Try not to land on your heels. If it is at all slick, then you are going to want the largest surface area from your foot hitting the ground as possible to make it less likely that you will slip and fall.

It is well worth getting off of the roads at least once or twice a week. It will build up a lot of strength that translates well to your road training. The air tends to be a lot cleaner due to the lack of vehicles. It is a lot of fun. Bear in mind the tips above and you will have an easy transition while you try to add some trails into your training.