At the time of writing it has been one and a half month since I ran and completed my first ultra marathon. The Laugavegurinn 55K on Iceland. Not only was it a fantastic experience – the Icelandic countryside is definitely something that I can recommend you to visit – it was also the peak of an almost year-long preparation process including countless hours on the trails.
At the beginning of this journey, I considered myself to be an average road runner. Little did I know that running trails and running on the road were so completely different. The pace, the stride, the focus, everything was new and I wished that I had looked up more information before I started. Hence the birth of this post. If you are thinking about starting running trails these are my tips for you.
Just to be clear though. I’m not a professional, far from it. There is a lot to read about trail running, but this post could hopefully serve as a supplement to all that, especially if you are transitioning from road running to trail running.
Get good shoes
Your normal road running shoes will not last long if you take them and run the trails. Especially not if you’re running in shoes that are ultra light or some sort of barefoot shoes. You need shoes with a thick sole that are steady around the ankle and has some sort of grip function.
Depending on what trail you run, it can be muddy, wet and very slippery. Especially rocks and roots can be tricky if you don’t have any grip.
A thick, absorbing sole helps a lot when you run on gravel. Light road running shoes are not designed to withstand that type of pressure and will most likely give you really sore feet. I can tell from my own experience that these “gravel bombs” really hurts.
Unlike a paved road the trail is very rarely flat, and as mentioned above, can be covered in roots, rocks, gravel or any other obstacle for that matter. So a shoe that is steady around the ankle will help you prevent different types of strains that can otherwise easily occur.
Most running shoe brands have trail running shoes in there assortment as well so you should go out and find a shoe that fits you and your needs.
Leave your ego at home
If you’re the type that logs your runs and compares times, splits and pace, transitioning to trail running can (at first) be a little bit disheartening. If you’re used to keeping a certain pace for, let’s say, a 10K run, you will not be able to keep that pace when you run 10K on trails. You might end up with a way slower pace than you’re used to, but don’t let that stop you. Just let this information sink in.
You can not run at the same pace on a trail and on a paved road.
With that said, you can always compare a trail run to another trail run, so there is no need to throw out that GPS watch you just bought.
The reason you can’t keep the same pace is pretty obvious, the trail is more narrow, you can not keep the same stride length, there are obstacles in the way. The reasons are many. The most common one though is due to the inclines. Which brings me to my next point.
It’s ok to walk
Some of the trails I run have inclines or stairs that are just to steep to run up. It’s impossible. So the only reason is to walk. I really struggled with this at the beginning of my trail running days, because stop running and start walking was something I did out of fatigue, so my brain automatically registered this as a failure.
It was common for me to continue to run for as long as I could in hills or stairs just to hit the wall halfway through. The energy consumption while running in the steep hills or stairs is not at all proportionate to the time that you think you will save. Sometimes it can even be worse since you don’t have enough energy to keep up when the trail is flattening out.
Walk uphill and fly downhill.
Plan you run
It happened to me at given times at the beginning that I ran out of water and/or nutrition and had way too much trail to cover left. All of this due to poor planning.
Running out of water or nutrition or worse, as in my case, both are a very bad thing. The trails rarely offer you anywhere to refill you nutrition deposits. You might find water in a stream or so but it can also be scarce. Planning ahead is essential.
Buy a map of the area so that you can study the elevation and get an estimate of how long the trail is. Take all of this into consideration when you calculate how long time the run is going to take and bring nutrition and water accordingly. The nutrition I bring usually consists of some or a combination of the following.
Tortilla bread with peanut butter
As for the water, I can only recommend you to…
Buy a vest
A proper running vest is perhaps, after the shoes, the most essential running equipment if you’re going to be out for an extended period of time.
Some vests use bottles other uses hydra packs on the back. Some prefer the one over the other. The important thing to check for is size, how much water it can hold and how much things you can pack into it. Some vests can only hold water, some can hold water and some equipment and some can hold water and an entire camping arsenal. Find a vest that you find comfortable and allows you to bring the water, nutrition and other gadgets that you might need.
Stop and smell the flowers
The last thing that I want to share with you and recommend is to every once in a while stop and just take it in. It doesn’t necessarily have to include smelling flowers, but it made for a good heading.
If you have completed a steep climb. Stop at the top and take in the view. Listen to the wind in the trees, staring out to the horizon or just let the pouring sound from the little tiny waterfall soothe you for a minute. If you lift your gaze every now and then you will find a lot of things that are worth stopping for. I can assure you that it will bring an extra layer to your trail running experience.
Do you want to share any tips or information that you have learned from trail running? Please do so in the comments below, that would make me really happy.
Take care, and be safe!