Trail running is an excellent method if you’re looking to challenge your running in new ways. Not only will you experience some of the most beautiful natural landscapes of New Zealand but you’ll utilise new muscles on the varied terrain and in turn, elevate your running abilities.
Becoming a better trail runner means taking your track and road technique and adjusting it for the uneven landscape. It’s a challenge to overcome, and you’ll be working muscles that are put under a lot more pressure. But once you master the trail running technique, you’ll see a huge difference.
One of the main things to take into consideration is your stride length. For trails it’s best to run with a shorter stride to help with balance, agility, and adjust to obstacles. Also staying light on your feet to minimise the chance of twisting an ankle. Traveling over the terrain as lightly as possible will help avoid taking a bad step.
It comes down to 3 unique challenges:
- trail running uphill
- trail running downhill
- using your arms to control your rhythm
UPHILL RUNNING TECHNIQUE: USE MUCH SMALLER STEPS
Going uphill is the lung-busting part of trail running – it’s the bit that road and track runners have the most trouble adjusting to. Large steps are hard to maintain when you’re going up. You’re also using the forefoot much more to push off.
This combination of forces means you should:
- shorten your stride and quicken your steps
- lift your knees higher
- shift your weight to the balls of your feet
- move your legs from the hips
- engage your core and pump your arms to help propel yourself forward
- make sure you’re not restricting your breathing by being hunched or leaning too far forward
Another key is to maintain your effort level so you don’t wind up completely out of breath once you reach the top of the hill. So take it slow and pace yourself rather than coming into it too hard. If you’re gasping for breath or your heart rate is through the roof, those are signs to slow down. Don’t get discouraged if you need to hike up the hill instead.
DOWNHILL RUNNING TECHNIQUE: KEEP UNDER CONTROL
You can quickly lose control of your speed going downhill. The pull of gravity can cause you to hurtle down hills with a stride that is too long. This makes it especially important to maintain a good center of gravity.
By overextending your legs, you put yourself at risk of injury. Good downhill trail running technique is:
- keep your feet under your body for a good center of gravity
- move your feet quick and lightly over the terrain
- don’t hesitate when you encounter obstacles
- lean forward at your ankles and land on your midfoot
- raise your feet from the ground as little as possible
- direct your eyes at least 5 meters ahead and avoid looking down at your feet
Be sure not to lean back in an attempt to brake or slow down. Instead, lean slightly forward as you take short and quick strides. It’s tempting to overstride or take big leaping steps but doing so will put excess pressure on your joints and throw off your balance.
ARM MOVEMENT TO PROPEL YOUR RUNNING FORWARD
One of the most important trail running tips is how you use your arms. Arms play a crucial role in your overall running rhythm and form along with maintaining balance on uneven surfaces. Plus they’re essential to how efficient you run.
- When you’re going uphill… you should swing your arms in short, sharp movements. Then your leg movement should follow with a short, fast stride.
- When you’re going downhill… use your arms to control your momentum and keep control by holding them out to your sides a bit wider. Imagine your arms as wings bent out at your sides. That will help you to keep your balance, regulate your movement, and quickly change direction.
In general, remember to drive your elbows back and not swing them across your chest. Also be sure to stay relaxed through your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. Check-in with yourself on occasion and do a shoulder roll to make sure you’re not tense.
BE PREPARED WITH THE RIGHT TRAIL RUNNING GEAR
Specific trail running gear is designed to help you go up and down hills and let your body work more effectively.
- Shoes that protect from rocks, give you optimal grip and provide stability. Look for a lugged outsole and a flexible forefoot to push off. Check out our full section of men’s trail running shoes and women’s trail running shoes.
- Running tights that are flexible and let you lift your knees.
- Jackets that don’t restrict arm movement.
- Tops that are flexible, stretchy, and easy to layer.
- A pack to hold water, a snack, a paper trail map, and a torch.
If you’re embarking out in the Auckland region it’s best to check for trail closures beforehand because of the spread of Kauri dieback. It takes only a pinhead of soil to spread the disease, so respect the efforts being made to halt its destruction of New Zealand's beautiful trees and visit the cleaning station before hitting the trail. Also, avoid going off the track and damaging fragile root systems.
With rough terrain, a constant level of alertness is required to avoid tripping on obstacles or slipping. Keep your eyes on the trail, and create a line of travel by focusing four to five steps ahead, planning your steps for the next few strides so you’re prepared for any upcoming obstacles.
It’s also smart to be safe by alerting a friend or family member of where you’re intending to run and when they should be expecting you back.
Whatever your weekend walk or trail running adventure looks like, ASICS is passionate about supporting your journey. Shop our trail running footwear and make sure you have the best shoe for your next run.