OTTAWA -- Along with getting a fresh experience and trying a new challenge, trail running can also improve your overall technique and help make you a better and faster road runner. And it doesn't have to be daunting if you follow a few simple steps.
Budget time carefully: Trail running is more demanding and takes longer than running on the road. So adjust your expectations and plan accordingly. A 5K trail run could take twice as long as the same distance in the city.
"A lot of people get in trouble because they underestimate how much time their run will take," says Dave McMahon, a competitive trail runner and coach. "If you normally run 10K on the road, do a 5K trail run."
Plan for everything: If something goes wrong on a run through your neighbourhood, solutions are readily available, even if it's ringing a doorbell and asking for help. But on trails, you need to be better prepared. If you get injured or the weather changes, you may be outside cellphone range and not encounter another person (or a water fountain) for some time. So plan your route and follow it carefully to make sure you don't get lost.
"Don't go exploring," says McMahon. Even if it's just a quick email, tell someone where you plan to run and for how long, so they know where to look for you if you don't return on time. And bring supplies: water, food and a map.
"You want to be prepared," says adventure runner Ray Zahab. "Never take anything for granted. Every one of us can get lost."
Focus on proper running technique: "A lot of people get away with shuffling on the roads," says McMahon. "They lift their feet one centimetre off the ground when they are running. You can't do that on the trails."
To avoid obstacles, you have to focus on lifting your heels off the ground as you run. The good news is that trail running will help improve your technique and your performance on the roads.
Run at a normal cadence: Even though the trail is uneven and there are obstacles on a trail, you shouldn't run defensively. "Don't get hung up on the rocks and roots," says McMahon. "Don't over-stride or stutter step in order to avoid them."
"It's critical to maintain a relaxed forward movement," says Zahab. "You don't always want to be putting on the brakes."
Run with others: Join a group or go running with a friend who's an experienced trail runner.
"It's safer and it's more enjoyable," says McMahon.
Use proper footwear: You don't need to buy new shoes right away. If you're not running on an extremely challenging or muddy course, you can run in normal running shoes.
"Don't expect them to come home shiny and clean, though," says Zahab.
When you graduate to tougher, more technical routes, you may want to switch to specialty shoes for trail running. But if you wear minimalist shoes on the road, the ones that simulate barefoot running, don't bring them to the woods or you'll hurt your feet.
Don't worry about injury: "The worst ankle injury takes two or three weeks to heal, as opposed to getting shin splints from road running, which can take a whole season to fix," says McMahon.
-- Postmedia News 2014 Inc.