Training for trails – City style

Views, clean air, wildlife, nature, endless routes, no traffic, the peaceful sound of nothing…trail running gives both a physical & mental challenge that when mixed with a sense of adventure creates an ultimate environment for a 'runners high’. All this makes trail running, whether it be short 5/10km races to ultra multi day events, extremely popular. There are very few people who go to a city just to run unless it's a race, however, most people live in cities, and therefore do most of their training in them. Dubai in particular is a vast city with an excellent running infrastructure, however, the latest surge in trail running means its residents have to travel to get that ‘runners high’ which a flat predictable city can't give. Here then lies the do you train for the unpredictable, off balancing, usually hilly routes of trail runs on flat, smooth surfaced pavements or roads? Below are your top 5 tips for training for trails, city style:
  1. Upgrade your engine. One thing with trail running is you don't normally just do 45-90 mins of running. You tend to go longer and slower and therefore it’s extremely beneficial to have a good base of aerobic fitness. Dedicate a 4-6 week block to growing your Maximal Aerobic Function and it will pay dividends on the trails.
  2. Ankle, knee & hip stability. First thing people learn after their first outing on the trails is you have so many more muscles in your legs than you realised. This is because uneven surfaces demand a much higher level stability from the body, so not only are the main muscles working but so are all the stabilising and assisting muscles.
  3. City steps. Most cities have some form of stairs or steps that take longer than 30s or so to run up. Search them out and slowly start incorporating them into your weekly long runs. Going down them is just as important as going up so make sure to work on your down speed as much as the up.
  4. Specificity trumps all. Hills are a key part of trail running; they are the price you pay for stunning views and fresh air. Top trail runners are amazingly efficient and part of their secret to efficiency is fast walking up hills. All cities have treadmills with an incline feature. This is a great way to get efficient at hill walking with your hydration/backpack on for 10, 20, 30 mins at a time. Add in a run interval in between hill sets and you are really training like you are on the trails.
  5. Movement first, load second. Think back to step 2, a lot of stability comes through solid movement patterns. Trail runners will have excellent single leg balance and anti-rotational control. They will also be strong for their body weight. It's likely this isn’t through standard weight training as most know it. It will be through working on the key movement patterns found in trail running. Single leg knee & hip flexion/extension (Bulgarian split squat), eccentric lower body loading (drop jumps/hamstring nordic curls), high velocity ankle flexion/extension (skipping, hops, bounding) and core balance work like single leg Palof variations. Once these movements have been learned and drilled you can start adding in external load to them.
These 5 tips are a great place to start your city training for the trails! I hope this advice gets you to the stunning views even faster and injury free. Remember to tag @IFEndurance to show us!   By: Tom Walker, Endurance Coach