Placed under the aegis of the French Athletics Federation (FFA), the comparison of trail running with road races seems to be obvious. The main differences lie in the surface on which you run and the difference in altitude. The latter is about the number of metres you will climb or descend during a race. If there are 300 metres of positive gradient, you will gain 300 metres of elevation cumulatively. These are all technical aspects that need to be explained as well as possible so that your first trail is a true combination of pleasure and success. Discover some precious advice to make a success of your first trail run.
Pay particular attention to your trail equipment
In order to start in the best conditions, a trail outfit, preferably made of merino wool, should be an integral part of your equipment. If you need very little equipment for a road race, the same cannot be said for a trail race. Between the compulsory equipment, which is inevitably different depending on the race, and the equipment for nutrition, your load is obviously heavier than for a marathon! In terms of essentials, you need a hydration system (bag, merino waistcoat, belt, water bottle or flexible flask). Choose one according to your tastes and the duration of the race. In any case, assume that it is essential to drink about 500 millilitres per hour of running.
Don’t hesitate to take advantage of long training runs to test all the equipment and make sure you load your bag a little to get your shoulders used to carrying a few kilos for several hours. The shoes are also very different from the road. While favouring a 100% merino wool lining, note that they have more or less long studs under the sole depending on the type of terrain you are going to face (dry, muddy, stony or open). For the rest, you can use your running gear on the road without worrying.
Train methodically and rationally
To train effectively, you need to consider the different routes, the distance of the race you want to run, the surface that is obviously more technical than tarmac and the difference in altitude, both positive and negative. Often, a beginner tends to favour hills over descents in training, thinking that they are more important. With practice, you will see that this is not the case at all. Work on the downhill as well and you will see that your knees and quads will thank you! Otherwise, compared to classic road race training, the work is particularly different in terms of pace.
Even with merino wool clothing, it is not easy for anyone to keep a strict pace when you are in the forest on hilly paths. It is therefore better to use heart rate for trail training. You can keep your speed up for the flat sections and the restarts after the bumps, while obviously adding some hill and downhill work. It goes without saying that strength training is also necessary. You can start with bodyweight and then move on to strength training with additional weight to make your muscles more resistant.
How to best approach the climbs
This is the part that many people don’t like in a trail race, namely the climbs. Whether they are more or less steep, more or less technical, there are several ways to tackle them. There are those where it is not physically possible to run, because they are too steep and full of dangers. Even with shoes lined with merino, you will have to walk. If the slope is less steep, there are two strategies: running or active walking. The important thing to remember is that it is better to walk at 5 km/h than to run at 7 km/h! You may not be going as fast, but the demands on your muscles are much less. You are then much more efficient! When it gets difficult, you can put your hands on your quadriceps and press them down to help you. For mountain trails with a lot of climbing, you can think of the trail pole which allows you to climb on 4 supports and really take the strain off your legs. Trail running is an activity that requires some preparation! Don’t hesitate to follow all these tips!