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Gift ideas for trail runners

I thought I’d make a list of gift ideas for trail runners, partly for myself and partly as a resource for others.  Often when people ask me what I want for birthdays or Christmas, I can’t think of anything.  Trail running doesn’t require a lot of equipment, and usually, the things I need, I’ve already got.  Maybe with a few prompts, next time I might be able to think of something.

Around $20

These items are the kind of gift you can give without consultation, and they’re reasonably cheap, so if you get it completely wrong, it’s not the end of the world.

Books: Always welcome, and there are so many trail running and ultrarunning books to choose from.  Just check whether they want physical books, digital books or audiobooks.  I love listening to audiobooks when I’m doing treadmill workouts.

Socks: Receiving socks as a gift might be a bit of a joke for some, but they do wear out especially when you crank out the kilometres.  I particularly like the Injinji toe socks as they stop my toes rubbing together.

Cap: I suppose you can only have a few caps, but a good one will be useful for years.  Look for one that’s lightweight, and has plenty of ventilation holes.

Gloves: Handy (pun intended) in winter, especially in colder climates.  Check that the gloves allow you to operate a touch screen while you’ve got them on.

Gaiters: These little skirts for your ankles stop stones and dirt getting into your shoes.  They’re just the right price for a gift, and come in some pretty groovy colours.

Buff: Another item that is available in an infinite array of designs.  Handy for soaking up sweat, keeping the sun off your neck, or your hair under control.

Around $50

Resistance bands: A set of resistance bands of varying thicknesses are useful for strength workouts.

Foam roller: Not the most exciting gift, but useful nonetheless. 

Soft flask: A soft flask to fit in an existing running vest is a nice little gift for a trail runner.  They likely have soft flasks that came with their vest, but there are some available with better features.

Over $100

OK, most of these items cost quite a bit more than $100, and they’re the type of thing that you probably shouldn’t buy for someone without consulting them first.  Some even require fitting, so the person you’re giving to really needs to be involved.

Trail shoes: Shoes are a bit pricey to give as a gift, and obviously they need to be fitted.  So, maybe give a gift card instead.

GPS watch: Likewise, GPS running watches are generally a bit too expensive to give as a gift.  And it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to get wrong.  However, the number of models available isn’t too confusing, so your friend should be able to tell you which one they want.

Running vest: Definitely not the type of thing you would buy for someone without talking to them first.  They’ll need to make sure they get the right size and the features they want.

Headlamp: Handy for running at night.  Look for one specifically designed for running.  Pay particular attention to weight (including batteries), brightness, and battery life.

Wireless headphones: If your trail running friend likes to listen to music while running, wireless headphones might be a nice gift.  Look for running specific ones as they’re sweat-proof and better at staying in the ears.

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What is technical trail running?

Technical trail running is characterised by the terrain being quite difficult to traverse.  This may include obstacles such as rocks, loose surfaces, roots, mud, water, steep climbs and steep descents.  Some technical sections may also require the use of the upper body in order to negotiate.  Technical trail running is usually significantly slower than running on smooth surfaces, and there is a higher risk of injury.

Each of the terrains and obstacle types requires special skill and experience.  If you are planning to run a trail race that has technical sections, you should devote a significant amount of time practising running on those surfaces.

Obstacles

These are some of the most common obstacles you will encounter, and some tips for negotiating them successfully.

Rocks

Rocks come in all shapes and sizes and each one requires a slightly different approach.  Small rocks or pebbles can create a slippery surface or find their way into your shoes, making running uncomfortable.  Larger rocks can result in twisted ankles or stubbed toes.  The trick is to keep focused on foot position and plan your line.

Here’s a great guide to running on various rock types.

Loose surfaces

Loose surfaces such as gravel or slippy mud can be challenging, especially when combined with a slope.  Grippy shoes may help to retain traction, but in some cases, you may just have to slow down and take it easy.

Roots

Roots pose a similar risk to rocks, and come in many shapes and sizes, but tend to protrude higher from the trail surface and trap the foot a bit more.  They also have the added benefit of being slippery and can result in a foot unexpectedly loosing grip.  Because they differ based on the type of vegetation growing in a area, it pays to train in the area you’ll be racing in.

Mud

Mud can be some of the trickiest terrain to overcome, particularly the sticky, slippery kind.  If it’s really bad, it can coat the bottom of your shoes, adding unwelcome weight and providing a slick surface with no traction at all.  Sometimes there’s no alternative than to grab a stick and try to scrape the mud off.

Water

Usually, water crossings just mean that you’re going to get wet feet.  Fortunately, most trail shoes are pretty good at directing excess moisture away from the foot, and you’ll be reasonably dry in no time.

Steep terrain

Steep terrain is one of the most common things you’ll encounter while trail running.  To complicate matters, you’ll probably also encounter one or more other types of obstacle at the same time.

Refer to this article on downhill running for advice and tips.

Tips for technical trail running

Time and effort

If you worry too much about how fast you’re going and how much distance you’re covering on technical terrain, you run the risk of becoming disheartened.  Instead, focus on the effort you’re putting in and the time you’re investing.  If you find it challenging, the chances are that others will find it challenging too.  If you put in maximum effort, you can’t go wrong.

Balance

Balance is critically important on technical trails.  Try to incorporate balance (single-leg exercises) and plyometrics (split and squat jumps) into your training.  Refer to this training plan for examples.

Shorter stride

It’s important to reduce ground contact time and “float” over the surface.  This makes it easier to deal with unexpected changes in terrain.  Avoid stop and go movements, which will slow you down, waste energy and can make the terrain harder to negotiate.

Footwear

Good trail shoes make a big difference on technical terrain and will give you a lot more confidence.  The lugs on trail shoes help grip the surface as you climb hills, rocks and muddy slopes. They also help you stop when you need to on steep descents. A good tread pattern will help to clear mud as you run.  You will find shoes designed specifically for particular terrain types.  However, to get started, general trail shoes with good grip should do just fine.

Find your line

Keep your eyes about 2-4m (5-10ft) ahead and look for the best path.  Try to plan your next few steps ahead of time.

Stay alert

Terrain and the obstacles you need to deal with will be constantly changing. You need to be constantly aware of those changes and plan accordingly.  This will take conscious effort to begin with but will become second nature as you become more experienced.

Aim to finish

Don’t take unnecessary risks.  Technical trail running takes time.  In a race situation, focus on finishing, not your position.  In training, challenge your limits gradually to improve your skills.  Run the same familiar trails at progressively faster paces.  Each time, you’ll make improvements in foot placement and you’ll become progressively more confident.

I hope you found this useful.  Do you have any tips or advice for technical trail running? Please leave a comment below to let me know.

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Trail running on real food: the ultimate list

On long runs, you will need to consume food on the go.  What to eat and how much to eat will be different for each runner and will depend on multiple factors.  This article serves as a rough guide, but each runner will need to experiment to work out what works best for them.

Eating while running

When you run, your body consumes stored carbohydrates as well as some fat.  The ratio of carbohydrates to fats depends primarily on the intensity of the activity.  However, your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate and it usually runs out after about 90 minutes of intense activity.  Whatever your intensity or ability to burn fat, you will still need to replenish your carbohydrates after roughly 90 minutes.  If you don’t replenish the carbohydrates, your performance will suffer. Your body will force you to slow down and will burn relatively less carbohydrate and more fat.

So, if your run is shorter than 90 minutes, you can get away with not eating, and just replenishing after your run.  But if you are running longer, you’ll need to eat along the way.

When you run, you burn calories faster than you can take them in.  The average runner can digest somewhere between 150 and 300 calories per hour, depending on multiple factors such as effort, body mass, type of food, climate and more.  And, you’ll burn somewhere between 600 and 1000 calories per hour depending on pace, body mass, terrain, and more.

The idea is to give your body just enough food so it’s not starved of carbohydrates, but not more than you can digest.  Too much food will weigh you down and lead to gastrointestinal issues.  Don’t try to eat as many calories as you’re burning, or you’ll have a bad day.

The general rule is to start taking in calories after about 30 minutes and continue to take in about 100 calories every 30 minutes or so.  Obviously, this will vary based on the individual and a multitude of factors.  It’s important to experiment during your training runs to work out what works best for you.

What to eat when running

So, you know roughly how much to eat while running. Now to work out what to eat.

The macronutrients that make up foods are carbohydrate, fat, and protein.  For running, carbohydrates are the important ones and generally, you’ll be looking for food high in carbohydrates, although fat and protein shouldn’t be ignored.

Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fibres.  They’re classified into simple and complex carbohydrates.  Simple carbohydrates contain just one (monosaccharides) or two sugars (disaccharides), such as fructose (from fruits) and galactose (from milk products). Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) have three or more sugars. They are often referred to as starchy foods and include beans, peas, lentils, potatoes, and whole grains.  As a product of digestion, complex carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars.

Another important class of nutrients for running is salts.  Sodium is probably the most important, but potassium and magnesium also play a role.  These are important for muscle and nerve function, pH and fluid balance.

You should also consider how portable a food is for trail running.  It’ll need to go in your pack and will be subjected to constant jiggling for kilometre after kilometre.

Why real food?

I’m not a big fan of gels and sugary drinks for race nutrition or for long training runs. I much prefer using real food. For me, it sits better in my stomach and feels better in general. It’s also a lot more palatable and doesn’t lead to a litter problem.

However, as I already mentioned, eating while running is a highly personalised thing.  Some people might not be able to handle any solid food at all

You can get away with eating just about anything when running.  The most important thing is getting the calories in and keeping them in.   

The list

So here is my list of real foods for trail running which may also be useful long distance running and endurance sports in general.

Bought and ready to eat

These foods don’t require any preparation, other than stowing into your pack.  These are good if you’re just starting out or if you’re in a hurry.  Also, if you find yourself out on a long run with a credit card, you can just pop into a nearby store and pick up some of these to keep you going.

Bars: This is a very broad category and includes a wide range of products.  Try to pick bars that aren’t too high in refined sugars and are made from whole grains.

Chips (crisps): These are great when you feel like a bit of salt.  They’re really light in your pack.  Just go for plain flavours as the spicy ones might not sit well.

Nuts: Nuts are a great combination of protein, carbs, and fat.  Choose your nut based on the macronutrient profile.  Don’t over-do the nuts though.  They can feel a bit heavy in the stomach sometimes.

Fruit: Some fruits are better than others.  Bananas are a common favourite.  I also like apples.  Be careful with fruits that are high in fibre.  Some of my favourites:

  • banana
  • apple
  • orange (pre-peeled or be prepared to get sticky)

Dried fruit: These are a bit more portable than fresh fruit.  As with fresh fruit, be careful with fruits high in fibre if you’re sensitive.  Just experiment with what works for you.  Some favourites are:

  • dates
  • cranberries
  • mango
  • apricots
  • pear
  • peach
  • apple
  • pineapple

Pretzels: Nice for a bit of salty starch.  Easy to pack and quite light.  Some people find them a bit dry though.

Junk food: Things like doughnuts, tarts, biscuits (cookies), pizza, and lollies (candy) are all valid foods during a long event.  Whatever you need to do to get the calories in.

Requiring some advance preparation/cooking

If you want to get serious, preparing your own running snacks is the way to go.  You’ll know exactly what’s in them and you can tailor them to your specific requirements and desires.

Boiled potatoes: If you can get baby potatoes, just boil and salt them.  If you can only get large ones, they can be cooked, oiled and salted.  You can also mash them and put them in a pouch.

Wraps: can be filled with just about anything, but here are some suggestions:

  • peanut butter and jam (or banana)
  • almond butter, banana, honey (+ soy sauce for salt if you want to go crazy).  I think I heard this one recommended by Dean Karnazes.
  • nutella and dried fruit

Croissant: Fill them with just about anything.  Cheese, jam, nut butter, etc are all good options.

Fruit cake: Either homemade or bought.  Cut into nice sized chunks and put into plastic sandwich bags.

Drinks

Water: My preferred hydration option.  If you want hydration, water is the original and the best.

Coconut water: Coconut water is full of handy electrolytes and some people live the taste.  I’ve tried it but it didn’t work for my tastebuds.

Iced tea with honey: Honey contains potassium, which is an important salt for muscle function. Honey is also a good source of antioxidants.

Fruit juice: Provides a nice little sugar kick.  Use with caution.  Can be hard for some people to stomach.

Cold brewed coffee: I’ve seen this at a couple of events, and it’s surprisingly refreshing.  The caffeine hit may also be desirable in the late stages of an event.

Chocolate milk: You’ll need to keep it cold, maybe by freezing it in a pouch, but chocolate milk is great to keep you going during a long run, and some people swear by it for recovery.

Flat Coke: Some people swear by flat coke for a bit of caffeine and a sugar kick.  I haven’t had Coke for years, though so I wouldn’t recommend it.  Other flat soft drinks would also be an option.

Semi-liquid

Baby food: If you get it in those squeezy pouches, it’s really portable and easy to digest.

Honey: A bit tricky to get into a pouch, but packed full of energy.  You can also buy honey in little disposable pouches, but then you end up with a litter problem. 

Home made gels: You can make your own gels, like these.

Pouch recipes: You can make your own semi-liquid creations to fill squeezy pouches. The No Meat Athlete has a collection of great recipes, including these:

  • Salty Sweet Potato
  • Date-Espresso
  • Banana-Date
  • Pina Colada
  • Apple-Banana
  • Beet-Ginger
  • Maple Cinnamon Oatmeal
  • Apple Maca
  • Banana Maca
  • Chia Switchel

Please let me know your favourite running snacks.  I’m sure there’s a heap of stuff I’ve left out.

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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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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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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?