Change The Game Performance Therapy


Trail Running: Where Every Stick Is A Snake Until Proven Otherwise

February 17, 2023

Trail running is a unique part of the sport. Athletes can compete in a variety of competitions and still be considered trail running. Some of the most common race categories/distances according to the International Trail Racing Association include:

  • Vertical
  • 10kms
  • Half marathon
  • Marathon
  • 50kms
  • 50miles (80kms)
  • 100kms
  • 100miles (166kms)
  • Endurance (beyond 100miles)

Trail running is beneficial to all runners for the same reasons that it can be dangerous. Trail running is not simply running on a trail. There’s so much more complexity to training for trail running as the terrain and conditions are always changing.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Trail running is not the kind of thing you do on the fly. It’s important to get to know your trail beforehand. Pick a trail that you’ve hiked before or have some more extensive knowledge of. You want to know what kind of terrain you’re tackling. It’s also a great idea to let someone else know where you’re headed and carry a map since GPS may not always be reliable.

Challenges come in trail running in terms of footing (ie those roots and sticks that look like snakes), steepness of the incline or decline of the trail (*See our blog about uphill and downhill running for tips and exercises*), and even altitude changes. These frequent turns, elevation changes, and obstacles can create a more balanced runner. The varied terrain can also help prevent injuries because of the decrease in repetitive stress often caused by running on pavement.

When planning your trail run you want to focus more on time that you will spend running vs. the distance that you hope to cover. While you may be able to hit 8-minute miles on the streets, that’s not necessarily a realistic expectation for the trail. However, trail running can give you a more intuitive sense of pace by forcing you to pay attention to your body’s response to the different elements.

Finally, consider the weather and how that impacts the trail conditions. While the softer surface of a trail is an excellent form of recovery after a hard workout; an excessively dry trial which can feel as hard as concrete. And, mud might be nice when you’re at the spa, but not so friendly when you’re knee deep in the middle of a trail.

Pack In Pack Out

Some of the above can be combated with the proper gear. This starts with the shoes.

According to REI there are four main considerations when choosing your trail running shoes:

  • Type of Trail
  • Cushioning
  • Heel to Toe Drop
  • Fit

You can read more of their guide in the links below and also check out our March Endurance Blog for info about going switching and transitioning to zero drop shoes.

Other gear to consider having includes clothing that allows you to transition through the various weather you may experience and a hydration pack or water bottle that’s easy to carry and will keep you hydrated. Hydration and nutrition are integral to a successful trail run.

Quick Nutrition Tips For Trail Runs From Abby Vanluvanee, Ms, Rd, Cssd, Ldn, Cissn At Simply You Nutrition

Fuel early and often! With longer trail runs (90 minutes to 2+ hours) it is important to make sure you are hydrating and fueling from the beginning! Try fueling every 15-20 minutes! See what works best for you.

Avoid sticky messes on hot days! If you like having nutrition bars during trail runs, use caution with yogurt or chocolate coating as these can melt and make a mess.

ALWAYS pack back-ups! Accidents can and WILL happen; pack back up fueling options just in case! You don’t want to be in a situation without fuel when the unexpected happens.

Practice, practice, practice! It’s imperative to practice your hydrating and fueling strategies to make sure you’re getting in everything you need and your body agrees with your routine! You can use shorter runs to test out different electrolyte and carb choices to practice before a longer trail.

Avoiding Pitfalls

As with all of your training, it should be unique to you. Things to consider avoiding:

  • Don’t increase speed, duration, and vertical gains all at the same time. These are three components of trail running and should be adjusted slowly and addressed individually in your program.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk! Just like with any run training, the word “run” doesn’t require you to run every step. Plus, it allows you a great opportunity to check out the scenery which is half of the reason to run trails in the first place.
  • Try not to go it alone. Remember that anything can happen out on the trail, so using the buddy system not only makes it a more enjoyable experience, but if you run the opposite direction from your trail buddy when a bear approaches, you increase your odds of survival by 50%.

Strength for the Trail

Because trail running has so many twists and turns, a solid strength training plan is essential to help improve the same areas you’ll be accessing on the trail:

  • Balance and agility
  • Lateral hip control
  • Foot and ankle stability

Try incorporating some of the exercises below from Dr. Brandon, schedule a Gait or Clinical Run Analysis, or sign-up for our Run Strong Group to help improve your Trail Running performance

Exercises To Improve Trail Running

Ctg Run Strong And Run Strong Virtual

Run Strong is a periodized program developed weekly to supplement your endurance training and ultimately change your approach to achieving higher levels of performance within running, triathlon and cycling training. This 2 day/week program will include exercises to develop strength, power, speed and hypertrophy at the appropriate time of the year to optimize performance. Prehab, injury reduction, and corrective exercises/ drills are a large emphasis to keep you training and at the highest level.

Best Trails to Run Nearby

Abbey Nature Preserve

Brunswick Nature Park

Carolina Beach State Park

Share your favorite trails to train on and races with us on FB and IG!

Click Here For Upcoming Trail Runs In Nc
RACE THE HYDRA and Check out the Ultra Running Guys!

Resources for Deeper Reading

Trail Running Tips from the American Trail Running Association

Trail Running and Shoe Guide by REI

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