Everyone knows the best way to get ready for an event on the trails is to train on trails – and trails as similar to those you will encounter on raceday as you can find. Specificity is, after all, a key tenet of most training and coaching plans. However, for many of us everyday runners, we simply cannot manage getting time on the trails in – or at least, enough time. Particularly now, during the COVID pandemic, with a need to reduce travel, those living in cities will particularly struggle to get to local trails to train. However, even in more normal times, it can be challenging to find enough time in your schedule to train on the trails if you don’t live close to them.
Nothing will ever be as good as being specific in your training… but there are ways you can mitigate the effects of not getting on the trails. The worst thing to do is simply ignore it, run on roads, and hope it will all be OK on the day. Instead think differently about your training – you need to find ways to add the resilience and strength you will need, not simply add junk miles on the wrong terrain. Here’s some tactics you can try to build lower leg and foot strength, core strength and responsiveness that you will need when the going gets tougher underfoot.
Heard of tapioca and carioca drills? Maybe not – but you will almost certainly have seen them if you have seen footballers warming up on the pitch before kick off. These drills are designed to get you moving laterally rather than simply forwards the way you normally do when running – and on most trails you will encounter a lot more lateral movement than you will on the hard tarmac. Carioca and tapioca drills improve your knee lift and hips’ range of motion. Do a quick google to find youtube videos of the drills – runners world is a great resource for this – and try and wrap the drills into your warm up and cool down at least twice a week.
Wearing barefoot shoes in everyday life or exercising in barefoot trainers will make your feet work harder even when you are in the city. Roads can feel more like trails when walking along in a barefoot shoe – you can literally feel, and have to react to, the camber of the road, any small stones or uneven paving and so on. Thanks to the wide shape of barefoot shoes (at the front and on the sides) a wider range of muscles is engaged while walking or running (as compared to traditional shoes). If you’re a beginner at barefoot, don’t try and run in barefoot shoes straight away – the first run should be no more than a mile, or your calves will feel like they are going to fall off…. Instead use barefoot shoes to train in the gym (see next point) where they will help you maintain the right posture and mobilise more muscles in your feet and core during training, and also use them in everyday life – whilst working or doing the shopping. Your foot strength will increase.
Get into the gym – or your living room carpet – and start training your core. See our post on strong core, strong performance for some sample exercises. The more dynamic your core workout (once you are warmed up!) the more benefits of flexibility, mobility and strength there will be for the trails. Try adding jump squats and jumping reverse lunges into your core workout…
You might not have access to trails but you probably have access to parks. Avoid the paths in the parks and get on the grass. Find slopes and wooded areas and run cross country – you’ll be surprised how challenging it can be. Many athletics cross country events are held in parks – you’ll be amazed how challenging and sapping the slightest incline can become if your legs have been sapped by running on sometimes boggy grass for a mile or two.
Simple but effective. Running up and down stairs will force your knees high and make you engage your core whilst running up the stairs, and force you to put the brakes on with your quads while going down the stairs. Try doing pyramids – one step up, one down, two up two down, three up three down…. fourteen up fourteen down…. you get the idea!