TIPS For The “Roadie” Who Wants To Hit The Trail More (And Not Get Hurt Doing It!)

Coach Al with elite ultra-runner, Debbie Livingston

Coach Al with elite ultra-runner (and trail runner extraordinaire), Debbie Livingston

If you are one of the many runners or triathletes who routinely run on the roads because the trail isn't comfortable or intimidates you, or is a place you tend to get hurt or frustrated, read on. I used to feel that way too!

First, anyone who routinely reads our blog knows I'm a big fan of getting OFF the road and onto the trail, even if most of your racing is on the road, and especially at this time of year. (That's YOU, triathlete!)

Getting off-road can drive your run fitness and health up by introducing varied, often hilly terrain that simultaneously strengthens your hips, legs, AND heart. The problem is, the trail (especially a technical rock strewn trail) presents its own series of challenges that often make the intimidation factor even larger.

For instance, do any of these scenarios sound even remotely familiar to you?

  • You've just climbed a steep hill and you're standing at the top, looking straight down the other side at a technical, very steep descent that is littered with rocks, roots and ice-like leaves. You hesitate for a moment, visualizing yourself slipping and falling or going headfirst into a tree. You decide to go for it, taking off slowly, cautiously, nervously tip-toeing, and praying you don't slip and fall or roll your ankle.
  • You're running along and see a very technical rock "scramble" and a stream, and gaze nervously because you aren't sure where to put your feet down OR how you'll possibly avoid rolling your ankle. You decide it's better to be safe rather than sorry so you walk (rather than run) through the scramble, staring down nervously the entire way.
  • You decide to take the advice in this article and venture off-road for your next run. Alas, 10 minutes into the run and you've fallen twice, rolling your ankle. It hurts, you're frustrated (and angry) and immediately look for the nearest exit back to your safe haven - the asphalt!

To help you not only avoid the above scenarios (and many others just like them), here are some TIPS that I've learned the hard way. My mistakes will save you trial and error (and injury I hope), making you a true LOVER of the trail as I am now.

  1. Make like a duck: Whenever you approach a technical rocky downhill, try turning your feet outward into a duck-like stance.  Doing this may feel strange at first, but it actually helps improve stability and will reduce the chance of you rolling your ankle. When the dreaded ankle-roll happens, our foot will usually roll laterally, or inward. Turning your feet out will make this much less likely. You'll learn to descend with much more confidence.
  2. Tread lightly: Good trail runners are highly skilled and light on their feet. Through many miles of practice, they've learned how to instantly unweight their feet when stepping onto an unstable surface, or when they can't see what is below the leaves or brush. When running on asphalt we typically don't give any thought to how hard we land. If you take that same approach on the trail, your risk of an ankle sprain increases dramatically. Learn how to instantly and skillfully unweight your foot. Practice it routinely and it will soon become second nature.
  3. Fly like a bird: Runners who usually run on the roads typically keep their arms close to their bodies. However, when you're out on the trail, spreading your arms out wide (picture a bird or an airplane) will help you maintain better balance, improving your ability to move laterally as the trail changes in front of you. Your flow and rhythm will improve, not only helping you to more easily handle whatever the trail might throw your way, but improving the fun factor too!

As you practice more and spend more of your running time on the trail, your skills will improve!  In addition to the above...

  • You'll learn how to confidently gaze farther ahead, rather than looking down.
  • You'll use the rocks you approach on the trail as stepping stones (keeping you out of the stuff you CAN'T see).
  • You'll learn to pick your feet up instead of dragging them along the ground, AND most importantly....
  • You'll learn to relax and enjoy it more!

Now get out there and have at it!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al


cedarlakecampIf you'd like to learn more skills and increase the fun factor, becoming a better, faster, happier trail runner, click HERE for more information on our upcoming Cedar Lake Trail Running Camp and Retreat from May 29-31, led by Debbie Livingston and Coach Al. It is for all levels and abilities, even newbie trail runners. We'd love to have you join us for the fun, comraderie, and learning!

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