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Things I wish I knew when I started trail running

It’s not long ago that I was new to trail running.  Here are some tips that I think would have helped me to keep things in perspective.  There’s no shortage of beginner tips out there already, so this is my unique perspective on it.

Keep it simple

You don’t need any special gear to get started. Standard running shoes will do just fine.  There’s no need to fork out hundreds of dollars on trail running shoes just yet.  You don’t need waterproof, highly breathable shoes with special flaps to attach your gaiters.  Likewise, you don’t need an expensive hydration vest just so you look like a trail runner.  Just running on trails will do that.

Shoes with grip are great

I know I just told you to keep things simple, but shoes with a bit of grip will make all the difference to your confidence on tricky terrain.  Just don’t rush into the purchase.  Standard shoes will do the job just fine while you get started.  If you’re aiming to do a race, maybe don’t bother buying your first pair of trail shoes until you’ve signed up for your first race.  Just make sure you have a few weeks to wear them in before the event.

You don’t need as much water as people tell you

When I first started trail running I would take a hydration pack on every run, stash water bottles along the trail and drink from streams I found along the way.  Actually, that last part isn’t true.  I’m from Australia.  We don’t have streams over here.  Not the kind that you would consider drinking from anyway.  All that water weighed me down, sloshed around on my back, and I didn’t even drink most of it.  Now I don’t bother taking water with me unless it’s very hot or I’m running more than about 20km.

You need more water than you think

Running out of water on a run when you’re a long way from anywhere because you read my previous tip is just plain silly.  What were you thinking?  If you’re venturing away from civilisation, just take a bit of extra water with you.  You spent hundreds of dollars on that expensive hydration vest I said you didn’t need, so fill it up before you head out.

You will develop a deep appreciation for watermelon

I have always loved watermelon, but since I started doing long distance trail running, I have and even deeper appreciation for it’s sweet, watery goodness.  There is nothing more refreshing and satisfying after a long, hot trail running event than to gorge yourself on a whole watermelon.

Run up hills

Hill training will make you stronger, faster and more attractive.  OK, maybe not the last one.  The point is, don’t take the easy option and walk up every hill.  Challenge yourself with hill workouts and I promise you will see improvements.  Not just with your physical performance, but also your general outlook on life.

Walk up hills

Obviously, running up every hill is not going to work.  Be comfortable in walking up hills.  Sometimes it makes sense to conserve energy and sometimes it makes sense to enjoy a walk up a hill.  Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.  Sometimes walking up a hill is the most energy efficient way to get up.  Once it’s steeper than a certain angle, running is less efficient than walking. 

Strength training is important

If I say it enough times, I might do the strength training I know I should.  Seriously though, strength training is important for injury prevention, optimal performance and improvement.  Also, it doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time.  30 minutes to an hour per week is adequate for the average recreational trail runner, and a small number of exercises will strengthen all the important muscles.  Keep it simple and you’ll be able to stick with it.

Keep things in perspective

Don’t complain. Running for recreation is an extreme privilege.  I have access to everything I need and I choose a physical challenge for recreation.

So, what have you learnt that you wish you knew when you started? Let me know in the comments.

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Trail running glossary

Like any specialised field, trail running and ultrarunning are full of strange terms that are quite perplexing to the beginner.  Some of them are even perplexing to the experienced trail runner.  Here is a collection of some of the jargon I’ve come across in my travels with the trail running community.  Some of these are also used by non-trail runners.

Aid station (also drink station, checkpoint): A table or shelter positioned along a race course, and attended to by volunteers.  Water, and sometimes food and medical facilities may be supplied.

Bonk: Suffer from extreme exhaustion due to depleted glycogen stores.

Buff: A versatile one-piece cloth band that wraps around the head, neck, wrist, and is useful for soaking up sweat, providing sun protection, and keeping hair under control.

Cadence: Number of steps per minute.

Crew: The group of people who support a runner during race.

Cutoff times: If you don’t make it to an aid station by a certain time, you will not be allowed to continue the race.

DNF: Did not finish.

DNS: Did not start.

DOMS: Delayed onset muscle soreness.

Drop bag: A bag to back various supplies that you might need during a race.  These are transported by race officials to designated aid stations and will be availav=ble for you to use when you get there.

Fartlek: Swedish for “speed play”.  A running workout in which the pace is varied, combining a mixture of fast, slow and moderate pace.

Fire trail: A wide, smooth trail, including dirt roads used by service vehicles.

FKT: Fastest known time.

Gaiters: Protective piece of cloth, fixed around the ankle to stop dirt and rocks entering the shoe.

Hiking poles: Sticks used by hikers and runners to provide extra support on the trails.

Junk miles: Long, slow runs.

Lugs: Bits of rubber on the outsole of a trail shoe.  Their function is to provide traction.

Midsole: The area of the shoe between the upper and outsole that’s
primarily responsible for the shoe’s cushioning. Most midsoles are made
of foam.

Negative splits: Running the second half of a race faster than the first half.

Out and back: When a course head to a point, then turns around and head back to the starting point.

Outsole: The material on the bottom of a running shoe, usually made of durable rubber.

Single-track: A narrow trail, only wide enough for a single person.  These are sometimes used by mountain bikers, so be careful.

Snot rocket: Blowing snot from your nose by closing one nostril with a finger and blowing forcefully out of the other.

Strides: Short, fast, but controlled runs of 50 to 150 meters.

Taper: Reducing the amount or intensity of running prior to a race in order to ensure peak performance.

Technical: Uneven or steep terrain with numerous obstacles on which running is very difficult.

Toebox: The front portion of a shoe, where the toes go.

Ultramarathon: Any distance longer than a marathon (42.2km, 26.2mi).

Upper: The material on the top of the shoe.

Vest: Very lightweight backpack used to carry water, food and supplies.

Let me know in the comments if I’ve forgotten any.

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A quick, simple strength training program for trail runners

Strength training is a critically important part of a trail runner’s program, but one that’s overlooked far too often.  Runners want to spend their spare time running.  They don’t want to waste it beefing up in the gym.  Trail runners, especially, want to spend their time outdoors, enjoying nature.  Would you rather be stuck in a gym doing repetitive weights, or out on a trail enjoying the outdoors?

The benefits of weight training are well established.  Strength training can improve cardiovascular fitness, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, and help you lose weight.  Importantly though for trail runners, strength training can reduce the risk of injury by strengthening specific muscles and other soft tissues that are put under stress by trail running.  In particular, these are the foot, ankle and calves.  Also, strengthening muscles like the glute and the smaller leg muscles improves balance and agility, which leads to reduced injury.

This strength program is designed specifically for trail runners, but also suitable for non-trail runners.  These few exercises are all you need to maximise your trail running and reduce injury.  In fact, keeping it simple increases the effectiveness and makes it easier to stick to.  The best part is that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  One strength workout per week is plenty for the average trail runner.  And each workout will only take about 30 minutes.  Minimising the amount of time required for strength workouts makes it more likely that they’ll actually get done.

Single-leg deadlift

OK.  I started with a tricky one but don’t leave just yet.  The single-leg deadlift is the ultimate goal.  Start with a double-leg deadlift before moving on to the single-leg version or you’ll probably have difficulty or hurt yourself, and you’ll definitely have poor form.  

The single-leg deadlift does so much in one action.  It’s one of those compound exercises that develops functional fitness by working multiple muscle groups at once.  Deadlifts work just about every muscle in the leg, including glute, calf, quad, hamstring and Adductor Magnus.  They also work numerous back and abdominal muscles.  Single-leg deadlifts are even more awesome because they also require torso, pelvic, and hip stability.

How to do it

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell with your arms fully extended toward the ground, hands shoulder-width apart, and palms facing your thighs. While lifting one foot a few inches off the floor to bring it behind you, slightly bend the knee of your supporting leg.
  • Push your hips backward, bending at the waist to lower your torso toward the ground as your rear leg trails behind you to help with balance. Push out your chest, only going as low as you can without your lower back rounding. Let the weights touch the floor, pause, and then squeeze your glutes to return to the starting position.

Instead of the barbell, you can also use dumbbells or kettlebells, or just one kettlebell for extra emphasis on stability and balance.

Weighted hops

Single legged hops with dumbbells or a barbell strengthen the calves, which are important for stability on technical trails and for powering up hills.

How to do it

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet together.
  • Lift one leg off the floor and balance on the other.
  • Hop up and down and do the same motion until exhaustion. Switch sides and repeat.

Do this exercise without wearing shoes.

Single leg balance

This exercise improves balance and strengthens foot and ankle muscles.

How to do it

  • Stand on a BOSU ball.
  • Lift one leg up, bending your standing leg slightly.
  • Stay in this position for as long as you can until your muscles become fatigued and cause you to lose your balance.
  • Repeat three to five times.
  • For an extra challenge, try it with your eyes closed.

Jumping lunges

This is another one of those exercises that work just about every muscle in your legs.  Specifically, it works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and hip flexors.

How to do it

  • To begin, start standing tall with your feet staggered, your left foot slightly in front of your right. Making sure you’re not too stiff, keep your stance active with your knees bent in a slight but not full lunge.
  • With your core engaged, push off the bottom of both feet into a jump, switching the position of your feet in mid-air, landing in a basic lunge with your right leg in front.
  • Without rest, repeat this movement alternating which leg is in front. To prevent injury, make sure your back leg is bent directly underneath your body and your front leg is bent at 90 degrees at the knee and hip.
  • Repeat to exhaustion.
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Why do my eyes water when I run?

Having your eyes water when you run can be annoying. There are a few reasons why your eyes might be watering, and a few solutions to the problem.

Essentially, it boils down to excessive tear production or poor tear draining.  But if it only starts being a problem when you run, then excessive tear production is probably the cause.  But what’s causing your eyes to go a little overboard with the extra tears?

Causes

Our body produces tears to keep our eyes lubricated, and to flush out any dirt and dust that might get in. But when the body produces too many tears, the result is excessively watery eyes.  The eyes kick up tear production under a number of conditions.  Tear over-secretion is usually caused by irritation or inflammation of the surface of the eye.  Cold weather, wind, dry conditions, and dust can all increase tear production.  Sometimes tear production increases so much that the tear ducts can’t drain it away fast enough.

What to do about it

First, remember to blink. It sounds a little basic, but the mechanical action of blinking helps with tear distribution and drainage.  Often when you’re focusing on something, you don’t blink as much.  Maybe it’s a beautiful sunrise.  Or maybe it’s the distant city lights.  Whatever it is you might be focusing on, try to remember to blink while admiring it.

Since cold, dry, dirty, and dry air are all environmental conditions that you can protect your eyes from, simply trying some eye protection should help. Sunglasses, particularly the wraparound variety, will shield your eyes from the harsh conditions and keep the crying at bay.  You can even find glasses to won’t darken your outlook too much.

If excessive tear production doesn’t reduce, the condition may be treated with eye drops or medication.  Keep in mind that persistently watering eyes can be a symptom of other medical problems.  Obviously, see a doctor about that.

Further reading

I hope this was helpful.  Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or comments.  Do you suffer from watery eyes when you run?  Is it usually associated with environmental conditions?

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Trail running for weight loss

Running can be great for weight loss, but to maximise its effectiveness, you need to incorporate some high-intensity interval training (HIIT).  This elevates the heart rate for relatively short bursts with lower intensity periods in between.  The great news for trail runners is that running on hills provides the perfect conditions for building interval training into your daily runs.

Running on trails or in the mountains has a significantly different impact on your body than running on the road. The cardiovascular stimulus is similar to what you might get from a fartlek workout, but as an added bonus you also work extra muscles.  When you climb a hill, you elevate your heart rate, your breathing intensifies, your legs burn, you work your quads, glutes, calves, and even your core and upper body.  It’s an entirely different workout to running on flat terrain.  And then you reach the top of the hill and let gravity do the work for you, giving you a rest period in your interval workout.

I have seen a few people claim that trail running burns 10% more calories than road running.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any studies that support that specific claim.  However, the support for high-intensity interval training as a weight loss tool is bountiful

If you want to lose weight, tone up and improve your fitness, but you want quick results, and you want to have fun doing it, I think trail running is going to be right up your alley. Getting onto the trails will take your running to a whole new level and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you notice changes in your body and your athletic performance.

So how can trail running help with your weight loss goals?

Become stronger

Trail running involves a lot of changes of terrain. Hills will obviously require more of your body than running on flat ground.  They work the big, powerful leg muscles like quads, glues, and calves. There will also be smaller undulations and obstacles that your body needs to accommodate for and will work your stabilising muscles.  Treadmill and road running is a much less varied style of activity.  Road running can still work some of the same muscles, but in particular, the stabilising muscles can be under-utilised.

Running on trails, especially downhill, builds strength and definition in your quadriceps. Your quads act as brakes to keep you from spiralling out of control downhill.

Running uphill engages your glutes for power. Also, on flatter ground, your glutes are used for lateral stability and negotiating obstacles.

Hilly terrain works your calves. They’re what propel you uphill.   They’re also recruited when running on technical trails and sections that require stability.  Each step starts with muscles in your feet and heads to the muscles in your lower leg.

All this constant stabilisation, adjusting to surface changes and avoiding obstacles lead to the strengthening of connective tissue.  With each step, the ligaments and tendons around the ankle and knee get stronger.  Stronger connective tissue results in fewer injuries.

Build your cardiovascular system

With every small hill and change in surface type, your cardiovascular system has to work harder.  These short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of lower intensity activity slowly improve your cardiovascular fitness.

Improved cardiovascular health will enable you to run progressively longer, faster, and steeper.  

Engage your core

Trail running involves more lateral movement and provides a greater challenge to your core muscles than road or treadmill running.  Downhill technical sections, in particular, activate your core to provide balance and stability.  Each step you take works to strengthen your core.  As well as helping to reduce the risk of injury, a strong core helps to improve your posture, your functional fitness and makes you appear taller and fitter.

Workout in all weather conditions

Trail running in differing weather conditions will require your body to adapt.  There are benefits for training in both hot and cold conditions.

Researchers have been studying the effects of heat on athletic performance for decades, and their results have been consistently surprising. Studies have found that training at high temperatures can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume, which leads to better cardiovascular fitness. It can also reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and, surprisingly, improve performance in cold temperatures.

Cold temperatures require your body to burn more energy to keep warm, assisting with weight loss.  Also, cold temperatures have been found to promote the growth of brown fat.  Brown fat is a metabolic tissue that burns energy.  Once you’ve acclimatised and grown some brown fat, you’ll be able to endure colder temperatures with less discomfort.

Running in extremes of weather may also improve your mental fortitude.

Motivation

Sticking to a weight loss program is notoriously difficult.  Trail running provides its own motivation.  It offers motivating benefits such as awesome scenery, connection with nature, and optionally, solitude.  Trail running is so much more enjoyable and motivating than plodding away on a treadmill or flat kilometres dodging traffic.

Trail running gets you out into the fresh air, away from stuffy gyms and dirty streets. Breathing fresh air can do wonders for your body and mind. Exposure natural light can increase serotonin, improving mood and regulating biological rhythms.  Also, a boost of vitamin D levels will help you absorb calcium and phosphorous to build strong bones.  This all results in conditions perfect for sticking with the exercise for the long haul.

Become one with nature

Trail running enables you to explore the environment around you and, for most of us who spend each day in the relatively confined environments of our homes and offices, a run in the great outdoors where everything is calm around you can do wonders for helping you wind down quickly, effectively and completely.

While running on a treadmill can become monotonous and running through the streets can be frustrating, as you dodge crowds and cross roads, trail running is a great way to illicit a sense of freedom, independence and will immediately clear your head and de-stress you.

Finally, nature can have a soothing effect on the psyche. Studies have shown that post-operative patients who have a view of trees require less pain medication and fewer days in hospital than those whose rooms have a view of a brick wall. So, getting out to run some trails can be a simple way to not only boost the physical results that you get with your exercise, but also to give yourself a much-needed emotional boost that will translate into improved results in every area of your life.

Reduce risk of injury

Most trail surfaces will absorb some of the energy of each step you take, meaning your muscles work harder while the impact on your joints is reduced.  This results in fewer repetitive strain injuries. Also, because the uneven terrain makes your whole body work a bit harder, you’ll develop new strength, fitness and resilience that will result in improved performance and reduced injury risk in general.

The fewer injuries you suffer, the more time you can spend training without having to take enforced breaks.  Extended breaks can eat away at the gains you made.

Balance and agility

Trail running can help improve your sense of balance and agility, which translates to improved sporting performance.

Trail running also improves your balance and sense of proprioception.  Proprioception is your body’s ability to know where it is in space.  This is a benefit that is useful all the other sports and activities you do.

Improved balance and agility results in fewer injuries, which mean more time training.

Focus and Appetite

Trail running requires more concentration than road running and, while sometimes it’s nice to clear your mind and achieve a zen-like state during your workouts, you’ll experience faster fitness gains if you’re fully engaged in your activity.

Focus on training translates into focus in other aspects of your life.  Studies have convincingly shown a link between mindfulness and weight loss.

Some people believe that time spent in a natural environment can improve your sense of smell and taste, which results in an improved ability to regulate your appetite and tune into foods that are good for your body.

How did you find this article?  Was it helpful?  Please leave your questions and comments below.

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Hill training for a faster half marathon

The half marathon is run at a pace just below the lactate threshold. It requires more restraint than a 10K but more aggressiveness than a trail ultramarathon. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be practised in training to prepare both mind and body.

Hill training is so important when training for any race distance.  If your race route is fairly flat then using hills in your training will make your race day experience so much easier and enjoyable.

Here are three types of hill workout to incorporate into your half marathon training plan.

Why does hill training work?

Hills increase the difficulty or the intensity of a workout. Climbing a hill increases heart rate, which improves both your aerobic and your anaerobic capacity. So, can be used to vary the workout intensity kind of like speed-work, but without the actual speed.

Hill Sprints

This hill sprinting workout is a training run that doesn’t change much as your goal race distance changes. The purpose of this high intensity workout is to build your running strength, power and speed. Your pace for this workout should be at nearly all out pace and will be anaerobic. The goal is to maximise your strength and power gains rather than improve endurance so the workout can be used for all distances from the mile to the marathon.

Workout: Run 10 repeats of about 150 meters up a steep hill of 10% to 15% elevation. Run at the fastest pace you can maintain for the repeat.

Pace: As fast as you can maintain on each repeat.

Recover: Recover by walking or running at a very easy pace down the hill after each repeat. As soon as you reach your starting point, turn around and begin your next repeat.

Hill Power Runs

For this half marathon hill training you will need to find a hill that is around 400 meters in length and with a moderate to steep elevation of around 10% incline.

Workout: Run 4 to 10 repeats of 400 meters up a moderate to steep hill. Concentrate on maintaining a strong steady pace throughout this hill climb.

Pace: Maintain a pace that is a bit faster than your current half marathon race pace.

Recover: Recover by walking or jogging down the hill at an easy pace. Begin your next repeat as soon as you reach your starting point.

Hill Lactate Builders

This hill workout is not only a great half marathon specific workout but it is also an excellent training run to build and improve your lactate threshold.

Workout: Run four to eight 800 metre hill repeats up a moderate to steep hill of between 8% and 12% elevation.

Pace: Maintain a pace that is a bit faster than your current half marathon race pace.

Recover: Recover by jogging down the hill at an easy pace. Turn around when you reach the bottom of the hill and begin your next repeat.

Good luck

I hope this helps your achieve your half marathon training goals.  Please leave your thoughts or questions in the comments section.  If you use these workouts, please let me know.  Or of you have a favourite hill workout,  please comment below.

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How to make more time for running

When training for a long distance running event (anything over half marathon distance), you’ll quickly discover that it can be a very time consuming hobby. Especially if you get into trail ultramarathons, you’ll find that a good portion of most weekends can be consumed by running about your nearby hills. Here I’ll share my tips for maximising your training time and making sure you have a little left over for resting.

Commute

If it’s practical, run to work. If it’s too far, run part of the way. There are plenty of resources on the internet with advice for commuting. I’m lucky enough to live 17km from work, which is a manageable distance to make commuting practical.

Do more, shorter runs

Maybe you can only manage smaller windows of time. It’s probably easier to squeeze in two 30 minute runs than it is to do a 1 hour run. You could do an early morning run and an after work run, or maybe a run in your lunch break and a run after work. If you can do two 5K runs per day, that’s 70K per week. That’s a great baseline for most ultra distance events.

Treadmill (or run at night)

I can hear you groaning, but if you run out of daylight, consider adding in a treadmill run, or run at night. I like to do a 30 minute lunch run and a 30 minute treadmill in the evening.

Work less

Whoa. That sounds pretty crazy, but negotiating this type of thing with your employer is probably not as hard as you might think. You could cut back your hours to 4 days per week, on a temporary basis. The pay difference probably won’t break the bank.

Let me know if these tips were helpful. How do you squeeze ultramarathon training into your daily schedule? If you have any questions or anything to add, fell free to leave a comment below.

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The benefits of running at night and how to do it safely

Running at night is sometimes necessitated by life filling up the daylight hours.  It can also be a lot of fun, either with others or by yourself (if the silence and darkness don’t freak you out).  Here are some of the benefits and challenges of running at night.

Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of running at night.

The heat

Especially in the Australian summer, running during the heat of the day can be foolhardy.  Unless you’re training for the Badwater 135, of course.  Running after sunset, the atmosphere is cooler and more relaxed.  If you’re running on roads, there’s generally less traffic, and if you’re running on trails, the wildlife emerge from their hidey holes and begin their nocturnal activities.

Your health

It’s often assumed that working out or running at night causes the release of endorphins and other stimulants which prevent the body from feeling sleepy. However, research suggests that people who engage in physical activity before bedtime, achieve better sleep[1][2].

Sunrise or sunset

For mo, seeing a sunrise or sunset never gets old.  Why not time your run to take in one of nature’s gorgeous displays?  Sunsets are awesome, but there’s something even more magical about getting out while it’s still dark and witnessing the beginning of a new day while most people are still asleep.

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Nocturnal animals

Particularly in Australia, a lot of our larger animals are nocturnal and they’re particularly active around dawn and dusk.  Encountering kangaroos and koalas is quite common, even near urban areas.  If you’re lucky, you can also see echidnas, emus, possums, owls, and many more.  In fact, the list could be an article by itself.

Safety

We’ve covered the fun stuff.  Now a few tips for staying safe while running at night.

Run toward traffic

If you’re running near roads, run toward oncoming traffic so you can see what the cars closest to you are doing.  Keep in mind that they might no be able to see you even though you can see them.

Lights and reflective clothing

If you’re running on trails, you’ll need some sort of light source.  The brighter, the better for avoiding obstacles.

If you’re running on roads, the streetlights are probably bright enough that you can see where you’re going but you need to ensure that you can be seen by other road users.  Reflective clothing should do the trick, but there’s no harm in taking a headlamp too.

Pull out the earbuds

People listen to music while trail running? Are you sure?

If you normally listen to music while running, give it a miss at night.  That’s just an accident waiting to happen.

Eye protection

You may not be able to see branches at head height.  A cap and clear glasses should avoid any foreign objects stabbing you in the eyeballs.

ID

In the event of something unfortunate happening, having some form of ID on you is going to be helpful.  Consider something like a Road ID.  If you wear it all the time, you won’t forget to bring it on your run.

References

[1] Sherrill DL, Kotchou K, Quan SF. Association of Physical Activity and Human Sleep Disorders. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(17):1894–1898. doi:10.1001/archinte.158.17.1894

[2] Kredlow, M.A., Capozzoli, M.C., Hearon, B.A. et al. J Behav Med (2015) 38: 427. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-015-9617-6

Do you run at night?  Do you have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments.

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Tips for downhill running

One of the most exhilarating parts of trail running is the rush of the downhill sections, especially the technical single-track. Being able to tackle them with confidence is a trick that takes a bit of practice and some testing of your boundaries. Use these simple tips and you’ll be smashing the downhills in no-time.

Go faster than you think you should

You can actually go faster than your brain wants to let you. Start by increasing your speed and then stopping after 10 seconds or so. Getting comfortable with pulling up quickly will allow you to go faster with more confidence.

Lean forward

Lean forward from the hips, rather than the shoulders. Gravity will pull you downhill. Avoid leaning back and try to focus on keeping your body perpendicular to the ground. As you increase your speed, move your centre of gravity forward. Find your balance. Too far back and you’ll feel like each step is like putting the brakes on. Too far forward and you’ll feel like you’re about to land on your face.

Use your arms for balance

Since gravity is taking care of your general motion (roughly downward), it’s the sideways control you need to worry about. Professional trail runners fail their arms all over the place in order to maintain precise control on fast descents. You can start by lifting your arms out to the side. Once your arms are up, the balancing will come naturally. As you run faster, you’ll flail with greater confidence.

Reduce your stride length

You don’t need as much power on the downhills, but you need control. Reducing your stride length gives you the ability to react faster to changing conditions. Start by cutting your normal stride length in half, and see how it feels.

Look ahead

Despite what your brain keeps telling you, don’t look at your feet. It will take a bit of practice getting comfortable with this. Depending on the terrain, aim to focus about 5m (about 15 feet) in front of you. You’ll see all the same obstacles but you’ll have more time to plan your line.

Reduce ground contact time

Keep ground contact time as short as possible and make the contact as light as possible. As one foot comes down you should already be thinking about the next step. I find this particularly useful on technical descents when you may need to recalculate things at a moment’s notice.

Putting it all together

You can layer all of these steps together to incrementally improve your downhill running technique. Start by going faster, then add the forward lean, for example. Get confident with each layer before moving on to the next. Once you’ve layered all the steps together you’ll find yourself belting down those technical sections like a pro.

Let my know in the comments if you find these tips useful.  If you run at night, do you have any advice that I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments.

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Trail running videos for your treadmill workout

Running on a treadmill can be a tedious affair.  The tedium can be even more acute for trail runners who are accustomed to enjoying the sensory stimulation of running in nature.  I usually listen to audiobooks if I have to do any treadmill running, but I recently found another alternative.

There are a number of channels on YouTube with videos of people running trails, so you can do your run on a treadmill and watch a first-person view of a beautiful trail run.

I’ve included a few below, but just search for “virtual trail run” and you’ll find plenty more.

Do you have any favourite videos for treadmill running? Post them in the comments.  If you don’t use videos, how do you keep your treadmill workouts interesting?