Trail Racing 101
Frequent Trail Runner contributor and renowned running coach, Jason Karp, PhD., shares his top tips for beginner racers and those looking to move up from 10K to the marathon.
Photo by Glen Delman
Wear the Right Shoes
You wouldn't go to a business meeting in sandals, or to a cocktail party in Nikes, would you? Regardless of how fast (or slow) you are, trail shoes will improve your trail-race experience by providing better traction and protection from rocks. A word of caution: race day is not the best time to switch over to minimalist or "barefoot" trail shoes. Without developing the requisite foot and leg strength, you would be hobbling to the finish line.
Master the Hills
Big or small, hills are inevitable at trail races, so learn to love `em. Drive yourself uphill with an exaggerated arm swing, forward lean from the ankles and strong push off from the ball of your foot. Since hills force you to work harder, steady your effort level rather than worrying about speed. Also, don't hesitate to walk if running is overly taxing.
On downhills, shorten your stride and quicken your cadence. When gravity is tugging you downhill, you have less time to plan foot placements, so look ahead a few steps to anticipate trail obstacles.
Mind the Descent
Even though running uphill feels harder, downhills cause more problems. Its gravity-induced eccentric muscle contractions, during which muscle fibers are forced to lengthen, cause microscopic tears and high-impact breaking forces bring a greater risk of injury. Damaging muscle fibers, however, makes them stronger, protecting them from future damage. While you can expect sore muscles at first, the more you run downhill, the less soreness you'll experience.