In keeping with my trail running theme this week as I prepare for the 6 inch ultra in a few days. ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com ) I’ve attached this great article on 12 Expert Trail Running Tips from Lesley Paterson ( http://www.lesleypaterson.com/coaching/ ), in an interview by Brian Metzler first published on 2013 but great advice is great advice no matter when it was given, enjoy.
Trail Racing 101
When you’re racing on trails, there’s a real feeling about battling against terrain and the environment, versus battling against each other. So there’s a mutual support in that endeavor. It’s still a race, and we’re all out there trying to do the best we can. But, on trails, I think there’s just a sense of being out there in nature—there is a happiness about it. There’s a fulfilling feeling about it that’s less neurotic than some of the races on roads, where time and pace and all of those details are a big deal. You can’t really measure yourself at a certain minute-per-mile pace, and even power meters on a bike are somewhat obsolete when it comes to off-road racing. There’s a bit of creativity involved out on the trails and with that comes a very relaxed nature and you really have to go with the flow, even though you still might be running hard.
Running Fast on Trails
Running fast on trails is completely different than running on roads or any flat surface. When you’re training and racing on trails, your movement and your gait are varied all the time. You have to have strong ankles, a strong pivot point, a strong core, and strong hips to be able to navigate rocks and bound off of them and dance around obstacles so you don’t get injured, but also not to take too much energy from your body.
Fartlek training is really good. I do a workout called “over-unders,” where you’re running just above your anaerobic threshold and then just below it. You’re constantly pushing those boundaries and continually going over the red line and coming back. I also do a lot of strength-based workouts and cross-training in the gym to build functional strength with the muscles you use while you’re running on the trails. It’s not only the eccentric strength you need for uphill running, but also the concentric muscle movements for running fast downhill and then immediately attacking another hill.
Hill repeats are a great drill for building strength and you can do them on road or you can do them off-road. You can do them all different times of the year with a different emphasis. In the offseason, I’ll do them with a lower heart-rate and focus on high-knee drive and engage all of those muscles as a strength component rather than a cardio component. I’ll also do bounding up a hill, which is almost like a plyometric drill up a very steep hill. They’re a controlled effort that really works the calves and feet. During the race season, I’ll pick up the pace and do sprints uphills and threshold workouts up hills. Strength is the basis for all of those kinds of workouts, but you can vary the intensity depending on the time of the season.
Try to find a trail that will mimic your race course and do a long run of about 90 minutes and do a 30-minute tempo effort on that trail after that so you’re teaching your body how to deal with the fatigue of being on a trail and still being able to maneuver around that trail. That creates strength if you’re doing at the end of a long run.
I think one of the hardest things in trail races is that you run an uphill and your legs are smashed, but then you hit a downhill hard and your legs are like jelly. Then you do another uphill and you’re like, “What the heck?” But you can train to improve on the same kind of terrain. Depending on the course you’re running, you should work over a hill and down the other side so you’re mirroring what’s going to happen in the race. During a race, if you work the uphill, you don’t just give up at the end of the hill, you get into a quick stride over the top of the hill and try to maintain your cadence. For example, I’ll have my athletes do a 4-minute interval on a hill, where it’s 2 minutes up a hill and 2 minutes down the back side of that hill. There are also some great intervals you can do where you run down a hill to start, then up a hill.
I do a lot of track work in the weeks before a race to get more leg speed and leg turnover. Sometimes when you’re on the trails, I think it’s easy to lull yourself into a false sense of security as to where your fitness really is or lull yourself into a pace that is less than what you’re capable of running. You need quick leg turnover to keep your timing sharp, even if you can’t run with that same fast turnover on a trail. There are times you need it, though, and if you don’t train for it, you won’t have it. So that’s why it’s still important to run fast on the track and road while you’re training for a trail race.
Tracking Trail Volume
I don’t track the miles I run on trails. You can never really get a consistent measure of how far you’re running, especially when you compare that to how far you might run on roads. I measure my running by time on my feet, not by pace or even distance. Pace is mostly irrelevant on the trails. I started trail running when I was about 11 years old with my dad over the fells in Scotland. In 2 hours, you might only cover 10 miles, but boy it sure is a hard 2 hours.
Cross-Training for Trail Running
I do a lot of CrossFit functional strength work like box jumps, single-leg hops, lunges in all different planes of motion, medicine ball tossing and other exercises that engage all of the muscles in all different ways. When you hit the side of a trail or the side of a rock at a different angle, you’re using a whole different set of muscles. So you need to be versatile and efficient to be able to do that and spring off that into your next stride. A lot of single-leg work is really important training for those kind of situations. I call them ice skate hops where you’re hopping from side to side. You’re teaching your body to propel off the side of the foot. When you’re running down a trail, chances are you’re going to be picking your line and propelling off one side, then another off rocks, so that can be really handy.
For me, the cross-training involved with triathlon has made me a much stronger runner. I think the endurance aspects of triathlon and the versatility aspects of training for triathlon are amazing. When you’re working on a few different sports like you do in triathlon, you’re using all planes of motion and building strength in a wide variety of muscle groups. One sport really feeds into the other very, very nicely. The swimming, for example, gives you so much more core strength, and that’s the basis for being an efficient runner. The biking gives you leg strength and muscle mass for trail running. Generally, you get much stronger from swimming and biking and that really benefits your running.
From a balance point of view, when I run on trails, I tend to use my arms and have my arms out to the side so I can flail them a little bit in a bit of a circular motion. Practice a couple of techniques like that when you’re running downhill. Your body position and having enough of a forward lean is important. You don’t want to be jamming on the breaks when you’re running downhill, because that’s really going to damage the muscles and throw you off. If you have too much of a forward lean, that’s going to throw you off because you’re going to create too much speed.
Falling on Trails
I have almost perfected the Army roll. It’s about going with the fall rather than trying to breach it. The first reaction is something like, “Oh my god, I’m going to fall,” and then you tense up and stiffen your limbs and ultimately land a lot harder than you need to or potentially even break something. But if you roll with it and go with it, you can kind of get up and keep going and not have too much damage. But that also shows why strong ankles are really important. I sometimes roll over my ankles, but they’re strong enough to cope with that and I’m able to keep running and not fall over. The more you practice running downhill sections of a trail, the better you become and less likely you are to fall.
I wear a lot of compression apparel after workout for the rest of the day. I always use Podium Legs at night and, for circulation purposes, I also vary back and forth between ice baths and hot baths and do a lot of stretching as well. And, then, of course, I always address it through proper hydration and fueling, before, during and after a race or workout.
To continue on with the trail running theme I thought I’d like to talk about the only other time I wonder off my beloved concrete. This is for the Simon Coates inspired ‘Choo Choo’ run. The idea here is to meet at North Dandelup Station (I say station in the broadest sense of the word. I think it has a small concrete outcrop it calls a platform but that really is it!) This is the same North Dandelup that the 6 inch ultra marathon ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com/ ) starts from , give or take 3k as the race actually starts at the beginning of Goldmine Hill, but close enough. Anyhow we meet at North Dandelup station and then run via the trail to Serpentine Station, 35k away. The ‘living on the edge‘ bit is there is only one train through Serpentine a day so if you miss it you have a long walk back to Dandelup where we leave the cars.
So we all meet at Dandelup and depending on how confident you are of making the Serpentine train dictates your departure time. The train gets in at Serpentine at 10:21am so we normally give ourselves 4 hours for the run. Thus we leave around 6:30am, just as the sun rises before we enter the trail after a nice 4-5k of concrete hills to warm you up. Hopefully no one gets left behind.
The graphic below was created when Dave ‘Sugar’ Cane ran the inaugural Choo-Choo run when someone did get left behind. The story was the group of five set off but one of the runners was never going to make it and basically was sent back to the car rather than taking the rest of the group with them on the long walk of shame back to Dandelup from Serpentine. There is more to this and even an amusing You Tube video but I am not at liberty to divulge the full carrying on’s……
I’ve ran this the last two years and made the train quite comfortably, so much so we are talking up a 7am departure next year to really give the run that touch of danger. Last year Jon ‘Trail blazer’ Phillips cut it very close. In fact in the first photo you can see he is not even at the station and we’re talking minutes to the train arriving. At least I look worried …?
In the (selfie) photo below you can see the elusive TB bottom right looking very relieved. After running 35k the thought of a 10-15k walk back on the road (as the crow sort of flies) is not enticing. We would have probably come and got him, probably?
This year it was far too easy and we all made the train with so much time to spare we were able to pose at the local deli and even had time to eat a smorgasbord of home made cup cakes that a local had brought to the store to sell for charity. It was her lucky day as she encountered a bunch of runners with the appetite of a pack of Wildebeest. (I am making an assumption that a pack of Wildebeest have large appetites ? They always seem to look hungry whenever I see them on any nature programs. Not so sure about the eating cup cakes bit but you get the general idea? If anyone has a picture of a Wildebeest eating a cup cake I’d love to see it. )
So the point of this post is to once in a while challenge yourself. Give yourself a challenge where there will be consequences if you fail but if you succeed you never know you may get rewarded with cup cakes or faced with a bunch of runners smelling like Wildebeest.?
Footnote. I probably forgot to mention the actual 30k of trail you get to run on this bad boy of a run. (I took out the 5k of concrete at the start and finish) As you can see from the elevation at the start of this post there is a steep hill at the start which softens you up for whats to come. You then get about 20k of undulating trails and some wondrous views before the best finish to a run EVER ! The last 5k off the scarp is just biblical in its awesomeness. You are catapulted towards the train station and spat out at the end of the trail like you’ve been shot from a cannon. No wonder we all had such an appetite, at then end I reckon I was running faster than a pack of Wildebeest. There was one Wildebeest who may not have been as excited about the finish as some of us but he shall rename nameless.
After a week recovering from the World Masters my mind is started to wonder towards my next goal race. I’m a big fan of hopping from goal race to goal race, improving each time. To this end I have raced nearly 30 times this year already and my next menu choice is the ‘6 inch ultra marathon’ ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com ) on December 18th from Dandelup to Dwellingup. Even the start and end point sound like ‘trail places’, and it gets better as it is ran on the Munda Biddi trail. Man this is trail running country gone mad. I almost expect to see a young Bert Reynolds in a wetsuit wandering on the trail (For the older generation amongst us you’ll know what I mean.) I’ve attached the map below.
A description of the course form the race director, Dave Kennedy.
The Six Inch Trail Marathon is inspired by the famous Six Foot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountains near Sydney.Returning from New Zealand in January 2005 I bemoaned the lack of trail races in Western Australia. I wanted to move to the land of the long white cloud but family and circumstances warranted at least another year in WA. One evening I headed out to run a gravel road signposted “Goldmine Hill”. What followed was a soaking wet 15K with the highlight being running into the Munda Biddi Mountain Bike trail. The Munda Biddi was built to keep cyclists off the 964K Bibbulmun walking track. The first 335K section from Mundaring in the Perth hills to Collie was completed in 2004. I had seen some road crossing signs during the construction and was keen to one day experience the track either by bike or foot. Finding the track so close to my house in Mandurah had me pondering a race in the near future. On my return from New Zealand I had been discussing a possible trail race on a local runner’s message board. I bought the map and found that this town to town section was about 44K. Six Foot which I had dreamed of running for years sprang to mind. “We could have our own version”. I had ridden between the 2 towns, North Dandalup and Dwellingup, and the road was super hilly. I was a little disappointed by the lack of hills when I ran the trail but some less masochistic runners didn’t agree with me. The result is a 46K trail race starting at the foot of Goldmine Hill 1K from North Dandalup and finishing in Dwellingup. This run is designed to be tough but most marathoners can expect to finish within an hour or 2 of their best marathon time.
My favourite bit is the last sentence. This run is designed to be tough but most marathoners can expect to finish within an hour or 2 of their best marathon time. This is no understatement. This is one bad ass of a race that starts with a 3km hill to get you in the mood for the rest of the elevations, and then just when you think it can’t get any worse Dave has found the ‘rutted hill from hell‘ where my mate Jon actually fell in one of the ruts and had to be helped out ! I mean he disappeared. You hit this bad boy around the 32k mark when you are at your weakest and the first time you see it you really think it is a wall rather than a hill. Actually Jon has had a few mishaps on this course. Two years ago he found the only puddle on the whole course, and that is over 46k, and promptly fell in it, twice. He was running well at that point and it was deep into the race, this mishap cost him his mojo and he fell away quickly. Because of this he was made to wear armbands at the start of the following year.
Last year , because he fell into the ‘rut from hell‘ we made him take climbing rope to the top of Goldmine Hill. Unfortunately I got lost last year and turned a 46k into a 50k (for the second time in 7 attempts, even after wearing two gamins!) , because of this I have to carry a map up Goldmine Hill.
Trail running is something I must admit I don’t do enough of. Truth be told this race is probably the only time I get out on the trail bar the Simon Coates inspired Choo-Choo run. (I’ll save that for another post.) I revel in the first 10k and marvel at the wonderful views, basking in the freedom and joy of running at one with nature. After 10k I start to complain a tad about the elevations, grip (or lack of) issues and difficulty finding a pace when you have to wait ever step. By 20k I am seriously reconsidering my love of trail running and then when I see the hill from hell I am well and truely convinced concrete is the way go. This is further enforced when you are faced with the last 10k which seems to go on forever, especially the last 2k where I swear Dave had found some time and space portal where you seem to run forever and move no further forward.
When you finish the 6 inch you know you have been in a race and I have attached finishing shot of yours truely in 2014 which backs up my claim that this is a ‘kick ass’ race that tests you and pushes you to then limit, drawing a line in the sand and then forcing you over it.
This will be my 8th running and I can’t wait because although it’s a hard race these of the sort of events that you need to run to become a better runner , to be tested and face Dave’s 2k of ‘running and but no moving‘ after a 44k warm up. It’s sold out this year but if you are ever going to run a trail race in Western Australia I highly recommend the 6 inch…I’ll see you at the start.
Stamina is so important in running and to improve it there are several elements that need to be combined. First is consistency, basically run and keep running on a regular basis. Next is distance. You all know my opinions on this, go further and you will go faster eventually. The Long run is the next piece of the jigsaw. This needs to be as long as possible and if you can add a bit of tempo all good, most important though is time on feet. Next some gym work on conditioning wouldn’t go a miss. I’m not talking about big weights here but cardio workouts, light weights , high repetition. Concentrate on the core muscles and we’re not into weight gain so lots of sit ups, planks, burpees, press ups, medicine ball work and leg strengthening . Now sprinkle in some off road work. This is better than your normal straight line concrete run as it improves the aerobic endurance as well as ankle strength and stability. On a good trail you have to watch ever step and this makes the whole running process so much more testing. Don’t worry about pace too much as you’ll end up on your backside; more important to feel the benefit of the constant ‘stepping’ from foot to foot as you navigate the trail obstacles. (see image below with right knee bearing the brunt of not concentrating!)
All this talk of off road trail running has me excited. Me think Kings Park for some trails lunchtime. Living the dream guys, living the dream…
…and there’s more… while enjoying my lunch time trail run through Kings Park I thought I need to add hill work to my stamina improving workouts. The benefit of hill runs is as well as being bloody hard work, which is always a good sign, they tend to be a bit more forgiving than say a temp or threshold run. If you’re on tired legs and add speed you’re dancing with the devil. A good hill workout, even on tired legs, will give you the benefit of a time spent in the higher heart zones (between Threshold and VO2 max!) without the risk of injury. It’s not to say a good tempo and/or threshold is also good for building stamina but you do run the risk and these should be set aside for when you are fresh.
I love concrete, Garmin Watches, splits and racing. Once or twice a year I do venture outside the City limits into the hills for the 6 Inch ultra marathon. Last Sunday before Christmas Day. 4am start as in Perth it’s the middle of Summer , and we get a hot summer ! Anyway , love this shot taken by my mate Dennis Tan, sums up the event.
Notice two Garmins as one records distance and pace the other holds the course. Still managed to get lost in 2 of my 7 finishes !