ON THE RIGHT TRAIL
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
From the February 2010 issue of Runner's World
If you’re wondering how to schedule your upcoming races don’t just look towards spring and summer. With autumn rolling in, now is a great time to enter a trail race, particularly if you want to train for longer distances later in the year.
Trail runs through bush areas –typically on single-track courses – tend to have a laid-back atmosphere, but require rigorous effort, and you can do them for training or competition. Trails vary from muddy and hilly, to clean and firm. Distances range from a few kilometres to many. Trails offer a change of scenery, soft surfaces, and a picture-postcard setting to inspire you to keep going over long distances. You're forced to develop coordination and reflexes in moving your feet over rocks and debris and as a result become a more athletic runner. Trail running builds endurance without pounding the footpath, as top trail racer Rob Higley, discovered. In 2003, one week after a 17 kilometre trail race, Higley ran a 2:46 road marathon PB.
The key is to feel at ease on trails, acquire the instinct for footing and staying on course, and develop a sense of time and effort rather than absolute pace. For six to eight weeks before race day, Higley suggests hitting the trails at least once a week (ideally more). Learn to pick up your feet; a shuffling gait may cause you to trip over roots and rocks and always look ahead to see if any obstacles are coming up. It's good to have a training partner, but if you don't, let someone know where you are going. Feel free to walk rocky sections or steep hills. On narrow trails, call out when you want to pass, but make sure there's room to maneuver.
If you haven't spent much time on trails, choose a shorter race. In the natural surroundings, try to run relaxed. Don't be surprised by how much slower your trail time is than your road time: if it takes you two hours to complete a road half marathon, one on trails could take three hours or more. Start out slow, walk the steep ascents, and try to step lightly on the descents.