Making the Switch to Trail Running
By Paul Towers
Image © studioculo / Fotolia
When I first started running I just pounded the pavement. It was convenient. It was easy. I could just throw on my shoes without any worry about where I was going to run or how to get there. One day though I made the jump. I went and ran on a trail and boy had I been missing out!
Running on a trail, no matter where it is, is so much more invigorating. You get to see and experience nature and actually enjoy the process of discovering what is around the corner. Contrast this to the road where all you have to contend with is traffic lights and car exhaust and I don’t know why I spent so long resisting the temptation of the trails.
Often when I have mentioned to friends or family that I enjoy trail running they can’t understand why I bother. They often say why don’t you just run around the block, or down to the beach. And while training on the road can be worthwhile (especially if that is the type of race you prefer), I can’t escape the thought that more people would enjoy running is they just expanded their horizons.
Running on trails has taken me to some amazing places. I have run around a ski resort in Vermont, USA, experienced the beauty of Bright in Victoria and enjoyed getting deep into the Blue Mountains bushland. If you haven’t yet trained on the trails or raced in a trail run I thoroughly recommend the experience.
If you are looking to make the switch however there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Get appropriate shoes
I have run on trails with road based shoes and it was a nightmare. It is not easy or ideal. In my case it was a stop gap measure for me, but if it can be at all avoided go out and buy some proper trail running shoes. The support and extra grip they provide is essential, especially if there are steep descents or lots of uneven ground.
Choose the right trail
I have run on everything from nice flat fire trail to ground that looked more like a swamp with rocks mixed in between. If you are hitting the trails for the first time choose something that matches your experience and what you want to get out of the run. If you don’t want to be scrambling up rocks or dodging tree roots tone down the trail selection to something a bit easier.
Run based on time
One of the biggest mistakes I made when going for a trail run was to convert my distance on the road, to the same distance through the bush. Often this meant my runs lasted for much longer than planned as the time it takes to run a set distance on a trail can be impacted by all manner of things. Steep hills, single trail littered with rocks, overgrowth, all of these things can slow you down and run your 10km run into an hour and a half or longer adventure. That’s why I recommend taking it easy and choosing to run based on time (at least initially).
Keep in mind the hills
Lots of trails have hills. Some short, some long. Some steep, some not so steep. If you are not used to running up hills this can come as a bit of a shock to the legs. If this is you I would recommend getting in some hill sessions as part of your training prior to hitting the trails. Also don’t be afraid to walk the hills when you start out. It’s much better to be able to finish the run, than blow up out on course and have to walk the whole way back.
Go with a friend
Ideally if you are running a trail for the first time it’s good to take a friend. Not only do you get to enjoy the outdoors together but they know the trail already. They can let you know about any tricky sections or where it might get tough. They will also have a good idea of how long the run should take even if the distance is something you would run easily on the road.
To sum everything up I highly recommend getting out on the trails. While it can take a little more planning than just hitting the road, the enjoyment factor goes way up as well. There’s also no distractions from the hustle and bustle of people going about their lives, which makes it easier to relax and enjoy the run.