Trail running requires so much more total-body movements than road running. When running on the trail, you have to recruit your entire body to navigate obstacles and sudden twists and turns. You also have to be very mindful (using your brain) of how and where you’re moving your body, or you might risk to fall or twist an ankle. Running on the trail, is less likely to develop overuse injuries than on the road. Running on the road you’re following the same constant range of motion step after step, hitting the ground using the same muscles every step, that’s when road runners get overuse injuries more than trail runners. Running on the trail, uneven ground, rocks, branches, you’re recruiting slightly different muscle patterns with each step, which reduces the risk of overuse pains and injuries, such as stress fractures and runner’s knee pain (patellofemoral pain).
The best way to train for trail running and races, is to combine both trail and road runs, so that you train your muscles differently and also your brain, which is much more engaged and busier on the trail runs. For some trail runners, with busy schedules or not having easy access to the trail, there are different ways to use the road to train for the trail. Running on the trail requires to navigate obstacles, sudden twists and turns and changes in terrain, rocks to mud, flat to climb. Add these trail-specific activities once or twice/week on road runs, depending on your access to trail runs.
Trail-Specific Training on the Road
Hill Repeats: On the trail, you will come across hills at any moment. To include hill repeats training twice/week will build your functional fitness to be able to handle to climbing.
Short Hills- Run for 10 mins to warm up. Then perform six 30 secs sprints on a steep hill, jogging back down to recover between each sprint. After the last sprint, run on a flat surface at a 10K pace for 5-10 mins. If you don’t have access to a hill use a treadmill.
Long Hills- Run for 10 mins to warm up. Then perform 3-8 mins hill runs. Jog back down to recover between each hill run. Run on the flat for 5-10 mins to recover and cool down.
Mimic a Trail Run: Running on the road is moving from A to B. On the trail, runs are unpredictable, running over branches, avoiding rocks, climbing. To practice using your muscles in a similar way, when running on the road, run along a curb, or take 45-degree laps from one foot to the other, run backwards for a few minutes, hop up on benches that you pass. Another great workout for training your feet and steps is performing Carioca Drills. Start by jogging in a side-shuffle. Then push off your left foot if your moving towards the right and cross it behind the lead foot. Continue moving laterally bringing your main foot back to the starting position before crossing it in front of the lead foot. Keep alternating the steps behind and in front moving laterally. Then switch feet by turning 90 degrees. This will help build up mobility and speed and work on your torso’s flexibility with all the twisting.
Build Up your Aerobic Energy: When you only have access to a flat road run, to build up your duration ability for the trail, do longer road runs. Find some stairs, and run up & down for 10-20 mins.
Add Barefoot Exercises: Do some balancing barefoot exercises, and make your whole foot interact with the ground. When you’re running on the trails, every part of your foot is constantly working, the toes, the arch, every exercise you can do to strengthen your feet will help. Don’t wear shoes, perform single-leg squat, lunges, stand on a single-leg and start kicking in 360 degrees, forward, back, sideways, up, down. These exercises will strengthen your feet to save you from injuries.
Use a Treadmill: Set the treadmill on a moderate grade, and work on a steady build up to a 20-min climb. The first time, start for 10-mins, the second time 12-mins, then 15-mins, up to 20-minutes after a couple of weeks. Start with a 10-mins warm up run and finish with a 10-min recovery run.