I've been road running for the past 4 years. A few days ago however, I ventured into a different running adventure- trail running. Earlier on, I always wanted to run in varied off-road terrain, but friends warned me that injuries are higher in these types of run. A colleague of mine, dislocated his knee and another had bruises in his shins and foot courtesy of the rocky terrain. Some even got lost (due to absence of signs) and became severely dehydrated (due to lack of water stations). So, I told myself: "I'll have to prepare for this event"- the first R.O.X. (Recreational Outdoor Xchange) Trail run in Cebu sponsored by Salomon. After much reading from various books and frequent site visits to Runner's World, I came up with these strategies, which I call the ABCDE strategy, for a successful trail run.
A- Awareness- Trail running is different from road racing because of the varied terrain. Your eyes should be looking several feet ahead were a sudden drop in elevation might occur or an animal might suddenly cross your path. Discard your MP3 player or any music device, as these will distract your concentration. Because trails are narrow, you'll usually run in single file and a fast runner might suddenly bump you if you are not alert. Branches of trees might also hit your head if your wearing a cap and you're not extra careful.
B.- Balance- Poor balance and weak muscles lead to injuries and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). One additional training I did was to improve my balance was by doing special foot/ankle stability exercises and using the balance board or the bosu ball. There are many demo of these type of exercises in Runners World and Youtube. I particularly liked the carioca, half-kneeling run, and the mountain climber exercises. During our off-road run, we encountered, rocky, grassy, muddy and hilly terrains.
C- Core exercises- Doing core exercises is a must for trail running and for almost other types of running. You'll easily tire yourself in elevated and uneven terrains if your abdominals and hip muscles are poorly conditioned. I did a lot of abdominal crunches and machine workouts for the rectus abdominis and erector spinae muscles. I particularly liked the Josh Cox dynamic core routine (eg side plank, bird-dog). You have to perform these exercises at least 2x a week.
D- Dress appropriately- Proper gear is essential in trail running. You'll need specialized trail shoes which is quite different from the regular road running shoe. For one, a trail show has special "bumpers" at the heels to protect your feet from rocks and other hard objects. You'll easily get bruised if you wear ordinary shoes. You'll also need water-resistant/waterproof or Gore-tex shoes for muddy and watery terrain because wet shoes can slow you down and increase blister formation. You will also most likely need a hydration pack (eg. North Face enduro) because water stations are scarce and may not provide plastic cups during these races (for environmental reasons).
E- Enjoy- Trail running is about enjoying and appreciating God's creation. You will enjoy the mountain ,sea views, flora and fauna and most especially the fresh air which you cannot experience in road racing. Forget the time; the most important part is finishing the race injury free.