• Making the Switch from Roads to Trails

    5 Key Differences and How to Handle Them

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Become a Patron! Flowy singletrack in Machias

Are you considering making the switch from road to trail running? Curious about how to make the change? Welcome! Many of we trail runners started where you are and we want to tell you that you are going to love this! Trust us, it’s a smoother transition from road to trail running if you understand these five basic differences:

Road-to-Trail Tip #1: Let go of all your expectations about speed, splits, and distance. Yes, you know exactly how long it takes to road run 8k, and you nail even splits on every attempt; however, trail running is going to offer you two new challenges that will change your relationship to data: terrain and elevation. The rocks, roots, and dirt that makes trail running so awesome will also slow you down as you make adjustments to your stride and proprioception. The more technical the terrain, the longer you should expect to take to cover trail distance. Elevation will also increase your physical effort and mess with your tidy, even splits.

Road-to-Trail Tip #2:  Plan to spend more time on preparation. You’re likely going to be out longer than for a road effort and you’ll need to manage the challenges of time and terrain. Trail running shoes are a must: the better traction will not only make you feel more agile, they’ll keep you safer from injury. Also think about where you are headed and how you’ll self support out there. Will the weather shift? Plan on carrying layers. Are you excited for a trail run because of the mileage or technical challenge? Plan on getting hungrier than in a road run and bring nutrition to support your body. Gels may work on the road, but they don’t always tackle the deeper hunger you get on an epic trail run. Also, what is your hydration strategy? Is your handheld bottle enough or is it time to think about a hydration vest? 

Road-to-Trail Tip #3: Cross training matters in new ways. You’ll want to focus on proprioception, your body’s sense of where it is in space, in order to confidently handle trail terrain. Agility drills and will do this while also generating more strength for the hops, side-steps and bounding leaps that you’ll need on some trails. Yoga is not only great for proprioception but it will also improve your balance and range of motion, which you will enjoy out there rockhopping. Recovery is another important part of the equation, especially if you are working harder trail running than you were on the roads.

Road-to-Trail Tip #4 :Navigation is a new responsibility. First of all, take a long look at your next run on a map before you head out there. Try to anticipate where the navigational challenges might be--a narrower trail, a quick series of intersections or a ravine where you might lose light a little earlier in the day? Moreover, the distances along trails and between intersections may not correlate to your body-feel that you’ve developed as a distance runner, so keeping track of intersections and other landmarks will help you recalibrate. A good GPS watch will help you know where you are but you can’t always rely on a signal, so carry paper maps.

Road-to-Trail Tip #5: Trail running culture is founded on respect for the trails you run on and for the folks you meet out there. While trail and road runners share a horror of litter, responsible use of trails means much more. Our trails are built and maintained by hardworking advocates and volunteers. Everytime we cut a switchback, contribute to trail overpopulation, or leave footprints in soft soil or mud, we are damaging not just the lands but also our relationships with the folks who have created our access to them. Take some time to read about trail stewardship and etiquette; better yet, volunteer for a maintenance day at a local trail network--repairing the effects of time and travel on our trails best equips us to understand our own contributions. 

Again, welcome to trail running! Because you’re already running roads, you’re going to have an easier time adapting to the trails than someone who may be starting from scratch. Keeping the important differences between trail and road running in mind, and preparing to handle those differences on your run, is going to make your adventures even more successful. Hope to see you out there soon!

Categories: training



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