How to prepare your body for trail running

mountain path running

Road running can be a bit tough at the moment, dodging everyone and trying to remain two metres apart. While some parts of the countryside are nice and quiet, with big open spaces waiting to be explored. It’s very tempting to just slip on the trainers and chart a new course. The woods, the fields, down along the river…

We love trails, going off the beaten path and changing the scenery. All very useful and important especially at a time like this when we all feel a little caged. Just be careful, do some prep work and a bit of planning to make sure your first trail run isn’t the last run for a while.

Risks in trail running

Ankle sprains – possibly the most obvious risk of going from a flat level surface to an undulating, often unstable one is the danger of rolling an ankle.

Blisters – not all running shoes are built for trails, and can slip about more than usual causing skin irritation on long runs.

Gravel – skidding and sliding is more common on loose terrain which can cause muscle strains if you get stretched out of control.

Tripping/falling – roots, branches and rocks need to be darted around and the risk of falling should be an obvious one.

Nature – silly things like swallowing or choking on bugs, scratching your legs on brush and nettles or simply getting worse hay fever shouldn’t be underrated. All can slow you down or put you off!

How can we minimise the downsides?

Simple hopping and landing exercises can aid in creating more stable ankles, knees and hips. Doing a bit of strength and conditioning is more important when preparing for a new challenge, one that your body isn’t used to yet. Check out the videos here and here to see some quick but effective drills to help protect your ankles.

Thorough warm-ups are even more essential when running on terrain that will potentially push you to the outer ranges of your hips/knees. Spend a little time before hand dynamically stretching your hamstrings and adductors (inner thighs).

We know you can’t run on a flat empty path out in the country (or it wouldn’t be a trail run!) so you can’t get away from every little obstacle. What you can do is get a good running technique with high cadence (steps per minute) that will allow for faster changes of direction to weave your way through trees and hop over roots.

A little plyometric work goes a long way here. Getting sharp and fast contact with the ground not only propels you further running in straight lines but will also help you dart around on the trails. Check out an example of the plyometrics we use for such reasons here.

What shoes should you wear?

Picking the right trail shoes is essential too. You want good grip from the sole and this isn’t always present on road running shoes. It’s a very individual choice so we’d recommend visiting a running store (if you feel safe and comfortable) now that shops are starting to reopen. Try a few pairs on and do a running assessment on a treadmill if that’s possible. For more advice on picking the right shoe, read this past article.

Nature is wonderful isn’t it? When it’s not trying to kill you. With safety in mind, make sure you take your Clarytin if you need it, wear appropriate footwear and check your route before you set off. Above all else, enjoy!

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