Are you a seasoned runner specialised in short or long distances, 5km, 10km, half marathons or marathons, and you’re feeling ready to run your first trail? Do you dream of going beyond your limits, of feeling the pleasure of running in the wild? If so, then here are a few tips to help you train effectively and prepare you got this new running experience.
What is a trail?
First and foremost, it is important to lay some foundations: no, the trail is not a marathon run next to a cornfield, nor is it a hike in the forest. It’s running on trails, paths or hilly route in forests or on mountains, it’s normally classified as a trail when the distance is between 21km and 80km, and known as an Ultra-Trail for courses over 80km. Easy right?!
Trail Running – a demanding discipline
If you’re keen on running a trail for the sole purpose of enjoying nature, to tone up your legs a bit and without any prior training, then you better think again! A trail is not a hike in the forest; it’s hard running, usually for (very) long distances, with uneven ground, and indeed requires a lot of intense and educated preparation. So, we hope you don’t have any false pretenses of jumping on the trail bandwagon because it is “trend”, without respecting a few prerequisites… warm up the legs, train your mind and get ready to hurt yourself a little bit.
Which trail to choose?
For this first trail, don’t go for Superman, there’s nothing worse than overestimating your strength and putting yourself off ever trying it again. Choose a short distance, with a few, but not too many, technical passages. It’s handy to keep it in mind that a 100m altitude difference is about an extra 1km of effort time, so put on an ascent-friendly pace for your first race, to “test the waters” and so you don’t disappoint yourself with a slower than average time. Once you get to your second trail you can start to try and raise the bar! Below is a little teaser for a schedule of upcoming trails.
Significant differences in altitude, the technicality of certain passages, the unavoidable variety of the terrain, scarcity of supplies… These are just a handful of things that make the trail different from your previous running races, and why you can’t prepare for it in the same way. Maybe you’re tired of the Tarmac or the chance to go rub yourself up against the best Kenyans titillates you? This is a good start, but you’ll have to raise the level, without going to the breaking point, to face the best in your first trail.
First, the frequency of your training outings will suffer, especially if you intend to run a long-distance trail! For a short 20km trail, three weekly outings should be enough, but for a longer trail, which we do not recommend for a first introduction to trail running, you are looking at between 4 to 6 training sessions a week. Wallowing in front of the TV will have to wait till the next life, but the key to a good runner is having mental and foolproof motivation, right? So, do not lose sight of your goal, and get out there and run!
It’s also recommended to accustom your body to the terrain you’ll be encountering on a trail to give you a good feel for the upcoming race or session.