Hit the Ground Running

First Steps
By Hiram Rodgers
  |  Gorp.com
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What does it take for a dyed-in-the-Coolmax runner to go off-road? The answer is that it requires a lot less specialized skill and gear than you might think.

Even if parkland trails aren't close at hand, you can still incorporate some dirt into your workweek routine by running gentle loops through a city park or beside a golf course. When the weekend arrives, try heading out of town to tackle rugged mountain trails in an all-day adventure.

Here is GORP's handy primer for getting off the street and working some nature into your workouts.

Conditioning

By its nature, trail running is, mile for mile, more physically demanding than running on roads. More hills and rougher footing require better conditioning or going shorter distances. One strategy used by both beginners and elite racers is to hike fast up the steepest hills and run the flats and downhills.

Or just seek out less of a roller-coaster trail to follow, especially if you're new to the sport. Whatever trail you take, don't expect to run your usual road pace. Be conservative on long descents. If you really hammer the downhills, your knees, thighs, and quads will pay the price.

A good stretching regime prior to exercising will pay off on the trails. The added torque of uneven surfaces favors flexible ankles. Overall flexibility can pay off in fewer pulled muscles after those inevitable stumbles. If you work out in a gym, some extra squats will pay dividends in hill-climbing power.

Terrain Tips

"Won't I sprain my ankles?"

I hear that question all the time. The answer is"no," especially if you ease into trail running by using smoother trails and less hilly trails until you've given your ankles and other joints and muscles a chance to adapt to the new demands you're putting on them.

In fact, trail running is a great all-around conditioner for your legs, since your muscles are constantly making minute adjustments to compensate for uneven footing.

Then, of course, when the terrain gets really rough or rocky, the smart thing to do is start hiking. Unless you've got reason to be confident of your balance and agility, there's no reason to risk a long painful limp back to the car. Likewise, slow down to pick your way across streams and through other water hazards. Your feet will blister more easily when wet, and even Gore-Tex-lined shoes can't keep feet dry in knee-deep water.

Safety note: If you're new to the sport, or to an area, find a buddy to run with, preferably one who knows the trails.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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