Top tips for tackling technical trail running – sounds like a tongue twister but we are here to share tips and advice on getting the most out of trail running.
Technical Trail Running – What Does it Mean?
Ever heard the term ‘technical trail running’ and wondered what it means? Well, for us ‘technical’ means any running on uneven terrain such as rocky paths, muddy trails, steep climbs and descents which require additional focus or concentration. We don’t mean undulating roads, hills, fire trails or fields where you can chat with your running partner without fear of taking a tumble.
Technical terrain can be the ultimate test for any off road runner and often requires good core strength, balance, the right technique and a bit of courage (or stupidity, depends on your view point). That said, don’t be put off by rocky paths and steep climbs. Instead use technique to improve your technical trail running.
To help you cope with more technical terrain and make yourself an even stronger off road runner, we are going to share some of our top training tips with you. You can use these techniques at any level, whether you are a fast competitive athlete or just want to run without fear of taking a tumble.
Work on Your Core!
We like to practise what we preach on this and enjoy core strength training to improve our trail running. Having a strong core can help you more than you realise, especially when it comes to climbing or descending hills. For some great advice on the exercises you can do to increase core strength, please see our article.
Take Light, Quick Strides on Technical Descents
You may think that running really fast will increase your chances of falling over but hear us out… Moving quickly over tricky terrain means that by the time you lose balance on one foot, you are already placing the next foot down. If you practise light, quick strides, you are far less likely to trip over a rock. This is in contrast to the longer strides you would naturally take on a non-technical, smooth descent.
Don’t Look Around You
We say this from personal experience. If you start to look around to admire the beautiful view whilst you are in the middle of a technical section, the next thing you are going to be looking at is the ground! If you want to take in the breath-taking views, stop and admire them.
Don’t Look Down
So, you can’t look around and you can’t look down, where are you looking? As technical trail running requires quicker, shorter steps, your feet hit the ground more frequently, especially on a downhill section. Consequently you need to have a picture of the route ahead plotted in your mind and should be thinking 5 steps ahead. To do this you need to look slightly in front of you at what’s coming up. You could be so busy looking straight down at the ground directly beneath you that you miss a large branch, tree root or rock that is looming. Dried cow pats are also a hazard. I have a scar to prove it!
Relax and Let it Flow
If you are tense, your body is not going to react as it needs if you do have to hop over a rock or adjust your balance. The more tense you are, the harder it is going to be to maintain a balance. Try to have a relaxed posture, stand tall and trust your feet.
Use Your Arms
When climbing, use your arms to help you drive up that hill. Your arms, driving backwards from the elbow, will help you gather momentum and assist you up the hill. We have already covered this in our Hill Reps Training advice. On the downhill, you want to use the arms differently to balance. This involves placing them out to the side to help you stay upright rather than driving them in the direction of travel.
When You’re Going, You’re Going!
Everyone we’ve ever run with has taken a tumble at point or another. This is from experienced trail runners who’ve completed a Bob Graham Round right through to novices. We’ve seen all kinds of injuries including; concussion, deep cuts, grazes and perhaps the worst – bruised pride.
If/when this happens to you or someone that you’re with it’s important that you are equipped to deal with any injuries the are more serious than just damaged pride. Our section on Kit List give examples of some of the items that could consider carrying with you. As a bare minimum you should think about taking a mobile phone.
Choosing the Best Technical Trail Running Shoes
As well as technique, you need the right shoes to help you cope with trickier terrain. The right shoes are critical when it comes to technical trail running.
What you might wear on grassy, even terrain, may not be the right shoe for dealing with rocky, uneven paths and trails. Many runners have a pair of fair weather trail running shoes that are great for most eventualities, however, when thundering down a rocky path, they don’t instil confidence. As a lot of trail running comes down to confidence, you need to feel comfortable that your shoes can handle it.
When choosing technical trail running shoes you want something that can bite into the dirt and protect your feet from rocks. There are some favourites that are rated by the top trail runners and trail running websites. While this list is not exhaustive, here are a few of our top picks:
SALOMON SPEEDCROSS 5
The Salmon Speedcross 5 uses Contagrip which allows the outsole to form a solid grip between the shoe and terrain giving you confidence on wet or dry, hard or loose surfaces. The larger lugs mean that the shoe can keep you grounded on the toughest terrain.
ASICS GEL-FUJITRABUCO 8 GORE-TEX TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
The ASICS Grip sole is suitable for both wet and dry surfaces. The outer sole has multidirectional lugs which offer unprecedented traction. An important factor when running technical trails.
A durable Rock Protection Plate is great on rocky terrain. It does make the shoe a bit heavier but it will save you from bruises and injury from jagged ground. If you have ever kicked a rock, you will understand. This shoe allows you to leap, land and navigate technical terrain more confidently.
LA SPORTIVA BUSHIDO II TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
Billed as a mountain running shoe, La Sportiva Bushido II is suited to the rugged trails as well as the muddy, soft trails.
Using their Grippy FriXion trademark rubber, gives you solid traction. The shoe also features a protective toe cap and a rock guard underfoot.
SAUCONY PEREGRINE 10
Designed for shorter distances and longer runs, the Saucony Peregrine 10 is light, fast, and comfortable. With 6mm lugs on the rubber outsole, it provides excellent grips. The PWRrun midsole offers enough cushioning while still feeling connected to the ground. The upper is designed to hold the foot in place and protect at the toe.
ALTRA SUPERIOR 4.5 TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
The Altra Superior 4.5 trail running shoe caught our eye for its removable stone guard and claws like lugs meaning this shoe can provide extra protection for those technical trails. While these features do set it apart from its peers, it is reported to be a little snug when compared to previous models.
Of course, there are other contenders that offer great grip and protection when tackling technical trails. Inov-8 do an excellent range of trail running shoes as do Hoka and Asics. There are also brands such as More Mile and Higher Ground. Have a shop around and find what suits you. Read the reviews, ask your running buddies.
Top tip – when you open a new box of trail running shoes, scuff the bottoms before your first run. This will get rid of that ‘out of the box’ shiny and new surface.
And Finally… Don’t be Scared
Most of all, don’t be scared or daunted by the trails. If you are worried about the climb, you can take your time and walk if you don’t feel comfortable running. This is the same for downhill. The more used to technical trail running you get, the easier it will become.
Disclaimer: Many of our posts may contain affiliate links. We may earn commissions if you shop through the links on this page although we only ever recommend products that we genuinely believe will enhance your trail running experience.