What could be better than the natural environment around us to satisfy our thirst for freedom? Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or experienced runner, take advantage of these tips to start or improve your trail running! This article has been developed in conjunction with trail runners of all levels, and with the help of Nathalie Mauclair (Member of the RaidLight Dream Team, double Trail Running World Champion, double Winner Diagonale de Fous, Winner UTMB) who has given some expert advice.
Like any sport, with trail running you need to be correctly equipped for the terrain and environment you are going to run in. You can take a look our range of products that have been developed specifically for trail running at www.raidlight.com
HOW TO GET INTO TRAIL RUNNING?
Firstly, remember that after effort is comfort. The hills that you climb will offer you new landscapes and scenery, plus new perspectives.. one after the other. It is necessary to remain lucid, so you can appreciate it! Remember that the effort involved in trail running is important, a steady pace for endurance must be managed, ideally maintaining the same speed on the last ascent as the first.
POSTURE, BODY POSITION
First, think about adapting your posture relative to the effort involved. It is advised to keep your chest forward (imagine that your chest is parallel to the slope), this allows you to keep the center of gravity above your feet.
Nathalie says: If you're tired, you can put your hands behind your back to reposition yourself naturally. This will allow you to keep body position forward but will open up the chest to assist with breathing.».
Although it scares many trail runners, the use of poles is beneficial: it allows you to redistribute weight, which reduces fatigue on the thighs and allows to go further. Of course, training with poles will improve your posture and technique and you will become more efficient in your Trail running. For practical reasons, the use of folding or telescopic poles is recommended so than can be stowed easily if required.
Once you are kitted out with the correct equipment and have practiced your upper body position, some leg work may be necessary! Particularly thinking about foot stride (whether climbing up hill "on the toes" or rather a "mid foot"). This can be adapted according to how you are feeling, but each individual needs to consider their own morphology. The natural tendency is to go uphill on your toes, but many agree that this is more tiring (a lot of muscular work on the calves) and that taking a stride landing mid footed will save you energy. It's up to you to test and see which method suits you best.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "PERSONALLY, I THINK THAT MOVING ON YOUR TOES UPHILL MAKES YOU HAVE MORE REBOUND, WHICH INCREASES FATIGUE. SO, I GOT INTO THE HABIT OF ROLLING MY STRIDE TO GET MY FOOT FLAT."|
Trail running (in competition) is a timed sport, many have wondered what is the correct method to be the fastest and most efficient uphill? Rest assured, there is no one solution, it is up to you to work out what suits you best. It depends on several parameters such as the level/ability and morphology of the athlete, the percentage of the slope, the distance of the trail… Two popular methods have emerged: either in the form of running in small strides (faster in the short term), or walking in large strides (saves energy). In both cases, it is advisable to not lift your foot any higher than needed from the ground.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "ALWAYS TRY TO BE AS ENERGY EFFICIENT AS POSSIBLE. "|
Having good endurance is an essential element to be successful in trail running. Long efforts are required in this sport and the lack of endurance will be detrimental in the quest for results in competition. For training, you have to adapt to the terrain around you. Nathalie lives in a region with little hills, she trains by doing a lot of short distance intense training repeats, this allows her to do a lot of sessions. Other athletes who live in mountainous areas advise to make ascents of at least one hour (sufficiently long) on varying terrain (road, trails, forest paths).
|NATHALIE SAYS: "ONE OF MY STRENGTHS IS TO BE ABLE TO RUN MODERATELY FAST, BUT TO BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN THIS SPEED FOR A VERY LONG TIME."|
It is also important to be able to undertake intense efforts. However, it is less important on longer trails. High intensity effort will be useful on trails less than 40Km. To train for this, interval training(hill repeats) is a good alternative, whether running or cycling. It is important to put a lot of intensity into these sessions, where the climbing phase is very intense and the descent a recovery time.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "HAVING THE ABILITY TO PUT IN INTENSITY ON THE CLIMB MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE MORE CLARITY FOR THE DESCENT."|
Training for climbs is necessary because in trail running the hills are variable in length and angle. Performing these sessions allows the progressive breaking of muscle fibres, which will naturally repair themselves by strengthening. It is interesting from a sporting point of view to train in sets of different pace and intensity (short, long, very long), but also for personal pleasure as varying the sessions keeps interest by avoiding the monotony.
Whatever your environment, timing yourself on the climbs allows you to challenge yourself, to get to know your body, your skills and to track your progress thanks to modern sports watches.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "I ALSO FIND CYCLING FOR TRAINING INTERESTING. THIS ALLOWS YOU TO VARY TRAINING SITUATIONS, AND TO DEVELOP MUSCLES AND FITNESS THAT CAN TAKE OVER IF OUR "TRADITIONAL RUNNING MUSCLES" FAIL ON THE TRAIL."|
HOW TO DESCEND WELL IN TRAIL RUNNING?
POSTURE, BODY POSITION
A climb is a phase of considerable effort, the descent can also be if you do not adopt a good body position. For that, you need to learn to be forward in your upper body, especially downhill. The arms work to aid your balance.
Pushing your limits and building an appetite for downhills is far more beneficial than staying in your comfort zone.
Nathalie says: Do not be afraid to “dive”. “Personally, I try to visualize myself perpendicular to the slope. It requires commitment, but over time there is fun and efficiency.”
As explained in the first part of the article, a pair of trail poles will always be beneficial, even downhill. Although in this phase of racing, their use does not always seem natural, they do offer additional support. However, there is no miracle recipe, so it's up to you to train with and without poles to choose what suits you best (do not forget the effectiveness factor in your choice!).
For those who are not convinced, it is even more important to have folding or telescopic poles, so you can store them on your running pack.
Nathalie MAUCLAIR says: Consider your running poles as an extension of your arm. Before, I dreaded descents with my poles. As soon as I reached the top, I had to put my poles on my pack to have my hands free in case I slipped going downhill. Now it's different. I have gained confidence and realized that keeping my poles in use on certain descents made me faster and more efficient.
Relaxation is the key point to descending well. There is a psychological barrier with the fear of falling. If this is your case, do not worry it's working! Once the psychological barrier is crossed, you will gain confidence and see the improvements. To descend while being relaxed saves a lot of energy, take a breath, limit the impact, and it is easier to react in case of obstacle.
Nathalie says: If you struggle, hypnosis can be an interesting method for improvement. Hypnosis can help you learn how to master the descent mentally, to gain confidence and help you to control the descent physically. Put yourself in the shoes of a mountain goat!
As for the cadence of your pace and the size of your stride downhill, it depends once more on you. Some will prefer quick steps when others prefer big steps without holding back (always looking for potential hazards). The style of descent must be adapted to the slope and the terrain on which you operate.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "I ADAPT MY STRIDE DEPENDING ON THE SLOPE, MY STATE OF FRESHNESS, SEEKING TO SAVE ENERGY. WHATEVER THE PREFERRED STRIDE AND CADENCE, THE MISTAKE IS TO BE TOO MUCH ON THE HEEL WHEN LANDING, THIS IS WHERE THE RISK OF A SLIP IS HIGHER. IT CAN NEVER BE SAID ENOUGH!"|
THE TECHNICAL-TACTICAL MOMENT
Physical body positioning is one thing, but downhill the eyes are also very important. As in many speed sports or even when driving, anticipation is paramount. Do not focus on your feet (the landscape is surely more beautiful than your feet...) and look forward. Good anticipation will allow you to move calmly, helping you relax and it will also allow you to be faster.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "SELF-CONFIDENCE IS A VERY INFLUENTIAL FACTOR FOR THE DESCENT. TO HELP IMPROVE THIS, PRACTICE DOWNHILL SPORTS (MOUNTAIN BIKING, DOWNHILL SKIING...). THESE SPORTS ALLOW YOU TO LEARN TO QUICKLY UNDERSTAND YOUR ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOP YOUR ANTICIPATION SKILLS."|
By practicing, you could find that the descending is not necessarily easy. It is a double-edged sword. Whilst you are mentally blocked by the psychological barrier, descending will remain a challenge, both physically and mentally, requiring excess use of energy. You will be more likely to fatigue your thigh muscles, your joints, to lose clarity and concentration (every trail runner knows how important the mental aspect is)
As soon as you manage to overcome this mental barrier and free yourself, it will lower your respiration rate, relax your thigh muscles, and above all, increase your pleasure. Once this barrier is crossed you will be able to enjoy the descents, relax, recover, and even refuel at a pace.
Know how to adapt your training to your level: at first, chose a descent with not too many obstacles (smoother terrain). You will be able to train looking further ahead without worrying about tripping on a rock or a tree root. You can time yourself each descent to provide a challenge and record your progress.
Here are a few options of possible workouts to inspire you. You can vary your training to maintain the fun element and increasingly learn from each situation:
NATHALIE MAUCLAIR SESSIONS
- Go fast, keep your speed on short non-technical descents
- Learn at your own pace to descend in different terrains: stones, roots, wet ground...
- On neutral ground: Do 3 to 5 times 100m descents at full speed, then climbing back up at a steady pace.
- 500m ascent full speed then 500m descent full speed
Objective: to break muscle fibres so that they can rebuild with more strength
- Interval training descents, including a stopwatch evaluation
- Mountain biking
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR SPEED ON THE TRAIL?
WHY INCREASE YOUR SPEED?
Successfully increasing your speed is very important when you want to be successful in trail running. From a numbers perspective, here is a simple example from one of the Raidlight Team runners: I can run 3 hours at 70% VO2Max. If my Maximum Aerobic Speed is 15 Km/h, I will run at 10.5 Km/h. If my Maximum Aerobic Speed is 17 Km/h, I will run at 12 Km/h. You can understand that the speed gain is essential, because these few Km/h of difference will make a large difference in your finish time.
However, be sure to consider the correct concept of speed. Having a good top speed can be useful in many sports, but what will be most beneficial as a trail runner is to have a good average speed. By having a high average speed, that you can maintain for longer periods time, you will perform better overall.
POSTURE, BODY POSITION
Whether uphill, downhill or simply to manage speed, cadence is an intrinsic factor. Everyone will exploit their own strengths in terms of their own body. Naturally, to be able to establish if speed is related to cadence, it is necessary to study two runners of the same build and the same pace. In this situation, it is shown that cadence and stride length increase with speed. Once again, do not neglect the oxygenation of your muscles, which requires a good breathing and therefore a more upright position and keep the chest open.
The development and practice of certain actions also allows you to gain speed. First, try as much as possible to limit unnecessary movements: it is wasted energy and prevents you from fully exploiting your potential. Also remember to keep your head up and look ahead to allow you to anticipate the terrain while also maximizing your breathing. Finally, the quality of stride and gait should not be neglected: try to avoid striking too much on the heel but instead allow the foot to land on the midfoot for a more fluid, energy efficient stride.
Nathalie says: The use of trail running poles will improve your average speed. Two sports that help in training are: Swimming; for strengthening arm muscles. Nordic walking; for learning efficient techniques of using poles. »
The power/weight ratio is an essential element in performance. At high levels, all runners are very light (but not too light!): The pounds/kilos must be dragged…. For trail running, the best power/weight ratio to achieve corresponds to the ideal weight for a certain shape, this weight is the optimum amount of muscle needed to move. Too much muscle, too much weight. Too little muscle, not enough power.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "IN SEARCHING FOR YOUR IDEAL WEIGHT, YOU ARE NATURALLY TEMPTED TO WANT TO BE LIGHTER. BE CAREFUL THOUGH, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH ENERGY IN YOUR BODY TO RUN THE FULL LENGTH OF THE TRAIL."|
You will often read or hear about the impact of VO2Max when you search for information. A good VO2Max is required to perform well in trail running, but it is not sufficient on its own. It is a good indicator (especially for new runners), but not a universal indicator. A good runner will have a good VO2Max, but, someone who has a good VO2Max is not necessarily a good trail runner.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "MAKE YOUR LOCAL ENVIRONMENT A STRENGTH."|
Living in a rather flat area, Nathalie was able to transform what appeared to be a weakness to her strength: high performance on sections of flat or false flat. She recalls: "At the 2015 World Championships, I surprised my main opponent by attacking where she did not expect: the flat. By pushing hard in a flat section of the course, I was able to overtake and then I did not let anything go to the finish line”. By making good use of her strengths, our RaidLight Dream Team athlete achieved her second gold medal in the World Trail Championships (2013 and 2015).
Regardless of your local environment, interval sessions (short or long) are good for developing your average running speed.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "YOU HAVE TO KEEP TRAINING ON TRACK AND ON TARMAC. THIS ALLOWS YOU TO THINK ONLY ABOUT GOING AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT THE TERRAIN."|
Note that in every situation, the training prior to a race has an important influence on the post-race period. A well-trained athlete will recover faster than an average or poorly trained athlete. But staying well trained is not saying the largest volume of sessions or the most training days. Of course, it is important to have consistent preparation, but an overload of effort leads to fatigue that can lead to hitting your limit on the day of the race or even an injury. A lack of training is also detrimental to performance and jeopardizes results.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "I BELIEVE THAT HARMONY BETWEEN BODY AND MIND IS ESSENTIAL. YOU HAVE TO BE SELF-AWARE AND LISTEN TO YOURSELF. IF ONE DAY YOU DO NOT FEEL GOOD IN TRAINING, IT IS BETTER TO NOT FORCE IT AND TO REST: THE TRAINING SESSIONS WHICH FOLLOW AFTERWARDS WILL BE MORE EFFECTIVE."|
Do not worry if recovery after your first few races is painful, even our athlete has experienced difficult recovery:
"THE FIRST TIME I DID THE GRAND TRAIL DES TEMPLIERS (76KM, 2011), I FINISHED COMPLETELY WASHED OUT. IT WAS A HORROR, I HURT EVERYWHERE AND FOR A LONG TIME AFTER THE RACE. TODAY, EVEN WITH LONGER AND MORE PHYSICAL TRAILS, I DO NOT FEEL AS MUCH PAIN. IT IS PROOF THAT TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE LIMIT POST-TRAIL PAIN."
RECOVERY AND TRAINING
There are various ways to optimize and/or accelerate recovery. The most common are massages, cryotherapy and electro muscular stimulation. Stretching is also very important; trail running is a sport that exposes runners to many shocks and micro-shocks. Remember to stretch all muscle groups (remember; the legs are connected to the back and vice versa) to limit the risk of discomfort or injury. It's up to you to decide which systems to aid recovery are best for you.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "FOR MASSAGES, START WITH THE LEGS WHICH NEED SPECIAL ATTENTION, BUT DON'T LIMIT TO JUST ONE AREA, HELP RELAX THE WHOLE BODY. THEN YOU CAN DO SOME ELECTRO MUSCULAR STIMULATION. PERSONALLY, I ALSO DO A LITTLE YOGA, WHICH ALLOWS ME TO DO ALL-ROUND STRETCHING."|
|"I FIND MY BALANCE, MY HARMONY. ALSO, DON'T HESITATE TO SEE A PHYSIOTHERAPIST AS SOON AS YOU FEEL A LITTLE TROUBLE, TAKE CONTROL OF THE PROBLEM AT ITS ROOT."|
Do not be afraid of "complete rest" after a race. The duration of rest should be adjusted according to the length and difficulty of the race. But for a long race or Ultra Trail of more than 80Km, plan at least a full week of rest (no sport, not even the “famous” recovery jog). After your rest phase, resume exercise gently, either on a quiet walk, Nordic walking or "supported" exercise (cycling, swimming). At this point, you are in the recovery phase: don't rush things, it could be detrimental to you afterwards.
|NATHALIE SAYS: "WE MUST RESPECT THE PHASE OF TOTAL REST. THESE MOMENTS ARE PART OF THE TRAINING. THE RECOVERY MUST BE QUIET. THE RISKS INVOLVED IN STARTING TOO SOON OR TOO MUCH TRAINING CAN BE FRUSTRATING BECAUSE YOU ARE PHYSICALLY LIMITED PLUS THERE IS HIGHER RISK OF INJURY."|
Rest is both complementary and indispensable in training.
|"BETTER TO DO ONE SESSION LESS THAN ONE SESSION TOO MANY"|
RECOVERY AND DAILY LIFE
"You are what you eat." Like rest, nutrition impacts on an athlete's training and preparation. It certainly defines the trail runners’ abilities during the race, but also afterwards. During the race, stay hydrated! To do this, equip yourself with a hydration pack or Race Vest. It is important to drink plenty (water of course) after exercise, to re-hydrate the whole body and help restructure fibres. A healthy diet is also recommended, especially to help you reach and maintain your ideal weight.
NATHALIE SAYS: NOTE TO FOOD LOVERS; IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO LIMIT YOURSELF INTO TOO MANY FOOD CONSTRAINTS ON A DAILY BASIS, YOU RISK BECOMING FRUSTRATED. ANYWAY, WITH THE ROUTINE AND TRAINING YOU WON'T WANT TO EAT TOO MUCH OF CERTAIN THINGS AS YOU WILL FEEL IT TOO MUCH AFTERWARDS. DRINK PLENTY (ENERGY DRINKS OR WATER LOADED WITH MAGNESIUM, SALT, SODIUM) WHILE RACING AND TRAINING. THIS MAKES IT EASIER TO KEEP ON GOING.
“I LIMIT MY DIET ONLY THE FINAL WEEK BEFORE A RACE BY LIMITING FIBRE AND GLUTEN (A MATTER OF COMFORT) AND DAIRY FOR POTENTIAL RISKS ON ACTIVE BONES. BUT OTHERWISE I AM NOT ON A SPECIAL DIET.”
Depending on the level you wish to participate at, the post-trail recovery will be more or less painful. If you become a trail runner for pleasure and discovery of landscapes, you will be able to limit pain relative to effort. However, if you want to line up at the front of competitions, be prepared to deal with the aches and pains.
If the race is short, you will have a high level of intensity. If the race is long, you will have a high level of endurance. In both cases, and if you want to be successful, you must hurt yourself (in effort).