Running Off the Beaten Track

Posted on 25/07/2019

 FULL DISCLOSURE: Written by an avid and emphatically ‘pro-trail’ trail runner

5 Tips and tricks to take on that trail and not fall flat on your face

As a trail runner, I am constantly trying to get my friends to join me on a run. I am going for a nice chilled run, not racing-Speedy-Gonzales so there’s no excuse about the pace. But besides people using the ‘I’m too slow’ or ‘I’m not fit enough’ excuse, the next biggest reason for leaving me running crew-less is this, “I can’t run on trail, I am going to fall and hurt myself”. So, to ensure that this is an excuse that is used less in the future and to allow for all the see the beautiful outside that awaits them once they venture off the beaten track, here are five tips and tricks for those getting started.

1. You are going to fall

I think the first thing to acknowledge and accept is that you are going to fall. If not your first time out, maybe the next. Maybe more than once. The next thing to know is that you probably won’t break all the bones in your body or shred every ligament in your ankles. You might have a little bump or bruise or draw a smidge of blood on your knee or hand, but you will survive, and it will make for a good war story when you get back.

2. Not all trails are the same

Not all trails are the same, some are wide and groomed and not technical at all, but not any less beautiful and fun. Some are rocky and rooty and require a lot more focus and skill. If you aren’t experienced on trails, your mates would be daft to take you on the latter. Choose a trail suited to your level. Just as a side note – pretty much every trail runner will tell you that their worst falls are on the more groomed trails so don’t let something a bit trickier scare you!

3. Focus

Following on from the previous remark about the bad falls it would make sense then that this is the next big point to remember. FOCUS. Road running allows you to think about your shopping list, the pain in the butt at work, that deadline… on the trails you have to remain in the present moment, focusing on your footfall, where you’ll step next, navigating routes and rocks. Sounds meditative right? It is. Keep your focus 2 or so meters in front of you, too close to your feet and you won’t be able to prepare for what’s to come, too far ahead and you won’t know what is directly underfoot.

4. Light like a Feather, and Graceful like a Gazelle

Relax, breath. It’s not that stressful. The more you tense up, the less you enjoy it, but you are also less able to correct yourself if you do trip up or step on an unstable surface. Light, quick steps ensure you are able to quickly change direction or keep moving swiftly if the ground starts moving below you.

This one seems obvious, but it needs mentioning. Pick up your feet. Roadies tend to have efficiently low leg lift but bring that to the trails and you’ll be kicking every other pebble, rock and root in your path. You will fall. So concentrate initially on lifting yourself up and over the obstacles instead of through them. Be the graceful gazelle you were born to be.

5. Ego Go

Running on the road is hard. Trail running is hard, maybe even more so. You won’t be hitting those splits like you do on the road, and initially you’re likely going to take twice as long to do your routine 5km. It’s about accepting that and leaving your ego at home. Get out, enjoy being in nature (with your mates). You’ll soon find that the hill you walked you are able to run, and the trail you had to navigate slowly you spring like a gazelle over.

Fall with Grace

As mentioned at the start; you will fall. Accept it and move on. But how do you embrace it so that you fall with grace and do the least damage? First you really want to keep as relaxed as possible… tuck and roll. As soon as you stiffen and flex your arms you are more likely to get hurt. Obviously if your face is heading for a rock protect the goods first, but other than that you want to do as a drunkard does (ever notice how they never get hurt when they fall?) and just roll with it.

The thing about running on the trails, regardless of how far off the beaten track you go, regardless of how fast, far, high you go, you will be engulfed and embraced every step of the way by the chirping of birds, trickling of streams, rustling leaves and moaning trees in the wind. Breathe deeply, smell the smells and be. Running on the road is great for fitness, trail running is great for your soul.

The thing that you should be worried about before taking on your first trail run with a friend who asks is not ‘I’m going to fall and hurt myself’. Rather, you should worry that once you hit the trails, it is pretty hard to go back to the tar.

We at RUN are all about community so leave your tip & trick below for all the fellow runners who are just starting out on the trails!

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