With warm weather moving in, and the long days, it’s a great time to take your training off roads. Maine has so many beautiful trails and wooded spaces, and you can leverage the fitness you’ve built on the roads, to enjoy them. It can help you shake off the rust of winter, and prevent your routine from becoming stale. There’s even evidence that it can be more relaxing that running in an urban setting. In a study published in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Environmental Psychology,1 people who spent time in a wooded, natural environment felt more restored, had better moods, and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) compared to those who spent time in built environment.
But running trails can be daunting if you’ve never before. Coming from the roads, you have to learn how to negotiate rocks, roots, downed branches, and steep terrain. Here are some tips for making a smooth transition from the trails to the roads.
Refuel while you’re on the trail. If you’re going to be out for more than 90 minutes, you want to refuel every 20 to 30 minutes while you’re on the trail. This will keep you feeling energized throughout your run, and help you finish feeling strong. Try out different brands, flavors, products, and whole foods to figure out what gives you a boost without upsetting your stomach, and what is easy to carry.
Stay hydrated. Make sure you’re hydrated heading into your run, as dehydration can make you feel tired sooner, drag down your performance, and make running feel more difficult. Drink 8 to 16 ounces in the hours before and after your run. And sip water every 20 minutes that you’re out on the trail.
Be prepared. You’ll want to make sure you have the right gear, in case in case a storm blows in while you’re on the trail, or you’re out beyond dark, or longer than you expected. It’s important to be prepared for any and all conditions. In general, trail shoes offer more traction, plus more protection and sturdiness from things like ankle rolls and sharp rocks.
Run by effort and time, not pace. While you may rely on pace to measure progress on the roads, when you hit the trails, it’s not the best gauge. As you negotiate roots, rocks, downed branches, and undulating terrain, it demands an overall slower pace that fluctuates often as you adjust to meet the conditions of the trail. Don’t be afraid to walk steep, technical uphill sections.
Don’t zone out. The terrain continuously changes on the trail; pay close attention, or you risk a fall. Keep your eyes focused 4 to 5 feet ahead of you so you know where to plant your feet. Also, stay alert to what’s going around you - the sounds of the footsteps of other runners, or the sounds of raindrops, thunder, or other weather blowing in.
Get strong. Navigating uneven and varied terrain of the trails requires balance and strength that isn’t demanded on the road. That makes strength-training particularly important. Incorporating exercises like lunges, one- legged squats, and planks into your workout routine can help you avoid injury and be better prepared for the challenges on the trail.
Expect to be sore. When you’re on the trails, you’re going to be working different muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints than you do on the roads. That could leave you with some muscle aches you’re not accustomed to, especially in the upper body. Increase your time on the trails gradually, just as you do on the roads, to give your body time to adjust. If you feel a sharp, intense pain, limited to one side of the body, or that interferes with your daily activities, rest and consider getting medical attention.