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Never raced through the wilderness? It’s time to change that! Trail races are a thrilling change of pace from your everyday road race. It might seem a little scary to run through mud, climb up rocky trails and splash through creek beds—but trust us, it’s all part of the fun.
If you can run on roads, you can conquer trails—but it does take a little bit of specialized training. After your first dirt run, you’ll likely experience soreness in muscles you never knew you had. This is because uneven trail surfaces demand different muscles to not only propel you forward, but also keep you from toppling over.
The good news is you can be ready for your first 10K trail race in only eight weeks! Plus, the strength you gain from practicing on trails will translate to faster times when you hit the streets again.
If you want your first trail-racing experience to be a good one, it is not enough to do some of your training on trails. You must also prepare specifically for hills and variable intensity.
The following eight-week plan for first-time trail runners incorporates all of these elements. This schedule includes three required workouts and three optional workouts per week. Try to do at least two of the three required workouts (it doesn’t matter which two) on trails. The other workouts may be done anywhere. By the end of two months, you’ll be ready to tackle an off-road race!
Tricks of the Trail
There are three important differences between road running and trails.
Footing: Running on paths filled with dirt, rocks and branches takes a little getting used to. You’ll need to get comfortable with some fancy footwork—and strengthen those stabilizer muscles as well.
Topography: Typically, trails are hillier than roads. You don’t see many trail races boasting a “flat and fast” course—so getting used to running up and down inclines is a must.
Intensity: Most runners discover that their pace is far more erratic in a trail race. The typical trail race has slow sections (ascents, sharp turns, loose dirt) and fast sections (descents, straightaways, packed dirt). You can’t just lock into your goal pace and cruise the way you do on the roads.
What runner girl doesn’t like to buy new shoes—but do you really need ’em?
It depends on the trail. Regular running shoes are perfectly suitable for use on most trails. But if you venture onto rocky, slippery or uneven trails, you’ll be better off in a trail-specific kick.
Trail shoes are typically lower to the ground and made with denser midsole materials for better stability. They’ve also got deeper tread for superior traction on wet ground. Additionally, most trail shoes offer better protection against rocks and roots. On top of all that, trail running shoes usually come in colors that hide dirt better!
Avoid newbie mistakes on race morning with these tried-and-true trail tips.
Get out fast.
Bottlenecking is a common frustration in races that include sections of narrow trails. It becomes almost impossible to pass other runners in these areas. Avoid the problem by starting the race a little faster than normal so you don’t get stuck behind slower runners. Don’t start too fast though, or you’ll be the one slowing others down!
Choose your line.
In trail races, you don’t necessarily want to run the shortest possible distance—you want to run the smoothest possible path. To do this, focus your eyes on the ground about 10 feet in front of you so know where your foot is going to land three steps before you get there.
Forget about the clock.
Trail races are often so varied in their terrain that regulating effort by pace is impossible. Instead, focus on your internal sense of effort and try to run the most efficient race possible by feel.