I am blessed to live and run in Tucson where I am surrounded by five mountain ranges, all with extensive trail systems. The Tucson Trail Runners use many of these trails to organize an informal series of annual runs. Over the last 17 years I have traversed every one of the series runs multiple times. Even though I have logged thousands of miles over well known terrain, I have a different trail experience each time. Some days I might be tired from a long day at work or a hard training run the day before. Those days are opportunities to take a better look at my surroundings, especially the condition of the trail, focusing on where and how I place my feet. On the flip side, I might be more rested for the trail run and ready to fly over the rocks and shoot for a fast time; in which case I will throw caution to the wind and let my feet do the thinking.
Depending on your state of fitness, energy level, or training intensity, your stride length and foot placement will change significantly. After finishing a trail run I can usually describe my day as a ‘Top O’ the Rocks’ or a ‘Tween the Rocks’ kind of day. If I am mentally sluggish or physically tired I tend to shorten my stride and step around or between objects rather than over them. This is especially true when running downhill. When I run tentatively too much I am more susceptible to ankle rolls and further fatigue sets in. When I am rested and feeling strong I can bound from rock to rock or over rocks, roots, and trees more efficiently with less impact. I can keep my body moving forward rather than expending energy with excessive lateral movement.
One of the benefits of trail running is how varied terrain strengthens the smaller supporting muscles of the lower legs and increases ankle resiliency. Both methods of negotiating objects on trail – over or around – have training effect especially in the ultra distance where you will experience different energy and fatigue levels throughout the day. There are often times the legs and feet need to know how to run on cruise control relying on the neural myelin wrap developed from the many hours of practice of foot placement on trail. For example, in the middle of the night you will need to rely on those automatic connections and strengthened muscles to keep you upright and on course. Look for tangents and avenues of approach that enable forward movement and solid foot placement. Don’t over think the trail; let the mind-body connection flow. Time on your feet is your greatest training advantage.
After a recent 15-mile hilly trail race, a friend of mine commented on how much faster I was able to run the downhill than he was. He is six inches taller than me and had much longer legs. We started the race together but when we got to a steep climb I power-hiked while he lifted his knees higher and pushed up the hill. I gradually lost sight of him until 45 minutes later on the downside of the course. As I was twisting and turning my way down the switchbacks with expert and subconscious foot placement, I caught a glimpse of him below. I caught up quickly and we cruised into the finish together. Even though I shortened my stride on the uphills and even walked at times, I managed to lower the course PR by 10 minutes. It wasn’t so much that I ran faster on the downhill that day, although I did; I ran more efficiently by saving my energy earlier in the run and relied on previous practiced foot placement. I really enjoyed a ‘Top O’ the Rocks’ trail day.
Powered by Facebook Comments