An introduction to Trail Running – By Brendan Davies

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

― John Muir

 

As a sport, Trail Running is perhaps one of the most purest pursuits we have

on Earth. It connects us with our primitive past; to a time before our ancestors

had the need for tarmac and pavement. It is as natural a pastime as one can

find in the modern age. It’s just you under your own power, against the

challenges of nature. No wonder then that Trail Running for many is not

considered a sport, but rather a life long pursuit.

For most of us here, including myself, we come with a love of running long

distances. We all share similar motivations to run; it could be the

companionship and camaraderie, or striving for personal goals and improved

performance. And I’m pretty safe in saying that most of us started our running

journey as I did with road running. I remember the first time a friend took me

out for a trail run. It opened up a new chapter to, not just of my running, but of

my life.

About 3 years ago, I made the best decision of my life. I decided to shift my

running focus from road running to trail running. It also coincided with a

change of residency from the city to the Blue Mountains; mainly due to my

Western Sydney work location but I’d be lying if the access to the trails didn’t

have a major part of the decision as well. Moving from road running to trail

running was a refreshing change for me as it will be for you mothers who are

seeking the next challenge in your running journeys. It could simply be that

you want to experience, for what feels to many, a completely different

sport. However, there are a few things that will change and a few things you

should expect and it’s important to be prepared. The environment, terrain,

attitude of participants and overall feel are very, very different.

The environment

It’s pretty safe to say that trail running takes in some pretty stunning locations

and scenery. From the mountains in the Alps of France to the deserts of

America and everything in between runners have found trails or created trails

to do what we love to do. Here in the Blue Mountains we have some

awesome trail networks and no two trails are ever the same. It is this variety

that lures us continuously back. With this come its challenges. The terrain and

surface is always changing. Here in the Blue Mountains we have wide fire

trails, to tricky ‘technical’ single track; flat trails to incredibly mountainous and

everything in between. There is a constant change of scenery but it is this that

we love. Being in nature is a remarkable destressor, and getting away from

the noise, cars and bustle of the streets can have a cleansing and positive

psychological affect.

Technique

Here’s some good news ladies! Running on trails can burn much more

calories. Now who’s ever going to complain about that? There’s a couple of

reasons. As mentioned above, trails generally take in a lot more elevation

gain (uphill running ‘climbing’) than road running and this forces us to work

harder more often than road running. Hence, the energy and fitness demands

of trail running are higher, especially in longer, more difficult events.

The other calorie burning reason is the unevenness of the ground. In road

running, our muscles tend to have one purpose; to propel us forward. In trail

running, they have a couple of other purposes; to stabilise the body and to

maneuver us over and around obstacles. Trail running is the ultimate pump

class as it involves not just running, but lunging up over rocks, dodging and

weaving over trail to avoid the myriad of obstacles trails throw at us, stepping

up over uneven bush steps and running down steep gradients has eccentric

loading affects on our muscles that road running rarely touches. Yes you will

be sore in places you’ve never been sore before after your first trail run. But

don’t worry, your body always adapts and the more you do trail running, the

more conditioned you become to the rigors of it.

brendan

Be prepared to get dirty in a trail run! Yes, even the ‘experts’ can find puddles!

 

Our technique on the trail is also much different and the reason why many

people often say their mind is as tired as their body after a trail run. We have

to constantly scan the trail for potential trip hazards; slippery surfaces mud

puddles and debris to find the safest way of travel. We look down more often

than ahead, and we pick up our feet and our legs go through a much broader

range of motions. I describe running over technical trail more like ‘dancing’

than running. We talk about having a ‘flow’ over the trail rather than a rhythm.

Our arms are used not just for propulsion, but are often outstretched for

greater balance, we sink in our knees for shock absorption, and we lean into

corners. As your trail running experiences widen, so will the skill sets that go

with it. Having an experienced running partner, mentor or coach to give you

some pointers can be very beneficial in your beginning stages.

Pacing

Going out for a tempo run holding 5:10 splits on the trails? Forget about it!

The terrain paces you, not the other way around like would be the case on the

road. It is much easier to have in your mind an ‘effort’ level that you wish to

maintain rather than even splits. Even when we walk up hills (another big

change from road running and very much part of trail running), it’s always

good to have in the back of your mind this level of effort you wish to be

exerting. As such, rarely do trail runners use a watch for any other purpose

than knowing the time of day! PBs are also almost non-existent in the trail

running world.

mel

Running Mum Melanie enjoying the finish of the half marathon at Southern Highlands Challenge

The Gear

Good news again ladies! Trail running also requires a different range of

clothing and gear. As you will be out for the majority of time away from

civilization and in the fast changing elements of nature, it’s important to be

prepared. For starters, a good pair of trail running shoes is a worthy

investment. Trail running shoes protect your feet and toes from trauma better

than road running shoes and they also tend to have better grip and offer

better feel for the ground or ‘proprioception’. Also consider wearing a light

jacket, gloves, hat or long pants. The ‘capri’ style pants I hear are very

popular (and not just with ladies, at least from this trail runners point of view!).

Being miles away from home also means that on your longer trail runs you

have to carry all your water and food, a phone, or even a map. So this

requires a pack or running vest of some sort. There are many good hydration

belts, handheld bottles and packs on the market all for different purposes and

distances.

The People

It’s hard not to love the trail running community. The stereotype that we are all

laid back, vegan, bearded greenies is far from the truth (although there’s a

few of them around!). In reality we are just like you and me, hardworking,

motivated people with a desire to self improve and be in touch with nature. In

this day and age, of technological dominance, it’s even more important for us

to be great role models in the community. http://www.trailkids.com.au is a venture

I’ve just started to bring children to play in nature. On the whole, trail runners

are caring, considerate and pretty relaxed people. I like to sum it up like this;

road runners have a start and finish to their training run and not much can

interrupt that. Trail runners start their training run and will seek out the most

interruptions possible before they finish. Whether it’s to stop to admire a

stunning view, take a photo, watch a lyrebird play, or to chat to another trail

runner, the destination and arrival time is always ‘negotiable’.

nicandhan

The camaraderie of a Trail race is like no other!

 

And let’s never forget that trail running is a whole lot of fun. It’s great to hear a

bird call rather than a heckle. A clap of thunder over a car horn? But being

prepared, by doing some basic trail running training, or having an experienced

friend or fellow runner show you the basics is a great way to start. And if

you’re like me, it will totally change how you train, and how you think about

running and life. But I warn you; no one ever just does trail running once! The

trail running bug has a mighty bite and the thrill of the trail will keep you

coming back over and over again.

Happy trails!

By Brendan Davies ©

For more information on Brendan and his coaching visit www.upcoaching.com.au

images courtesy of Southern Highlands Challenge

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