10 Tips for Trail Running by Marina Hand
1. Base Period Training
At the start of your running season, make sure to allow for roughly 12 weeks/3 months of 'easy' running in the base period, as you build up from your baseline fitness again. Runs should be at heart rates below your aerobic threshold (AeT) - easy test is the MAF test - 180 minus your age. Also remember that multiple years/seasons of endurance training improves your base line fitness and the load your legs can handle substantially - for example, when I began running longer events 5 years ago, working up to a 20 mile trail training run was a much longer process than it is for me today.
2. Sleep hygiene
Try to keep a sleep routine of going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time, even on weekends. This helps you fall asleep quicker and wake up more refreshed. Find the sleep tricks and hacks that fit your lifestyle - for example I go to bed at 9pm to wake up at 5am, use a sleep mask, keep my cellphone out of the bedroom and minimize alcohol right before sleep.
3. Intervals vs lower HR efforts
Once through your base period training, incorporate once weekly interval training into your running routine. I do a simple interval workout of 10 x 1 minute efforts up a dirt road or singletrack trail. The rest of your week's runs should be at an easier heart rate, especially longer mileage days.
4. Legs and core strengthening
Incorporate exercises dedicated to these muscle groups into your week. Something as simple as 10min of legs (one legged squats, balances, Bulgarian lunges) and 10min of intense core twice a week on a consistent basis will reap rewards in your training and racing.
5. Minimize injury
I am a firm believer in the foam roller - I use the Trigger Point foam roller after every single run. I also alternate running with biking, swimming and yoga - some weeks I am only running three times a week even while training for a big race. Make sure to have a recovery day in your week too - I have noticed a significant improvement in my energy levels by taking one day with no exercise at all.
6. Know your strengths and weaknesses
Your known strengths should give you a mental boost on race day - for example the technical downhill coming up that you know you will fly through, if that is your strength. Working on your weaknesses in training is vital - climb on multiple ascents during your training if that is tough for you, go out faster on a training run to see how that feels if you usually start slower and feel that is to your disadvantage etc.
7. Nutrition highlights
Train your stomach to be accepting of various foods - I alternate gels, chews and solid bars in all my training so I can be prepared for the variety of calories I will take in on race day. I also like to incorporate real food especially on long training days - pancakes, sandwiches, pizza rolls, anything to look forward to! Hydration is vital - on any run over two hours, I take my running pack with a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolytes, and I am sipping on those constantly, well before feeling thirsty. Following every running workout, I have a protein shake or other food within 30 minutes of finishing, to help with recovery.
Online coaches, training plans, goal races - all are options to keep a plan for the season - even if it is simply the week's workout plan written out on a Post It as I do - what day will you rest, when is your long run, when are intervals etc. A training partner is wonderful if you can find one for one or some of your workouts - especially big effort days or even someone training for the same race you aim for.
9. Realism and keeping it joyful
Running should fit into the lifestyle and the space you have made for it. I train 12 to 15 hours a week now but it took some time to make that fit into my life comfortably. Try not to hyper focus on the miles or stats you need per week - if the beautiful run you want to do to an alpine lake is 3 miles shorter than your goal that day, so what, smell the flowers, keep the joy and you will be far more likely to keep running in your future! Be kind to yourself and wary of the comparison culture we are in - social media is wonderful for the community you can feel, but watch out for negative feelings when you see other athletes' adventures or stats - we all have our highlight reels!
10. Race week and day tips
Make sure to taper and decrease your mileage at the latest within one week of your event. I have one last med-long run at the one week mark and take the rest of the week before a race to stay active with other pursuits (biking, yoga, swimming), doing a small run (roughly 30 minutes long) with 1 min spurts the day before. No magic is going to be worked at this point and if anything, you will make yourself slower by over running during this week. Make sure to bank a good night's sleep two nights before your race - you know you will be a restless sleeper the night before. Have a mantra for some race day oomph - your favorite song, a line from a movie that gets you pumped, a memory of a time you felt like a boss - this is just you in your own head so don't be shy and use your mental strength at the times the race feels tough!