10 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR 2023 RUN PERFORMANCE
Taking your run off-road can reap multiple multisport benefits, but to make sure you get the most out of every mile, you first need our top tips…
GAUGE TIME NOT DISTANCE
Trail running’s a more liberating exercise than pavement pounding. You’re far from the madding crowd and free from polluting traffic. That liberation extends to how far you run. What with the technical trails, gnarly surfaces and numerous obstacles – tree stumps, rocks… – gauge your run over time rather than distance.
PERFECT YOUR POSITION UPHILL…
When it comes to running uphill, remember not to lean forward too much. It’s common to overcompensate due to the gradient but go too far and you lose speed… and find it harder to see where you’re running. Instead, don’t bend your chest forward; instead, stand up straight while remaining balanced. Life your head, too, as this will help you breathe more proficiently. Also, look to run on your forefoot while cranking up the arm action. Both will help you stride if not effortlessly, at least more efficiently.
… pERFECT YOUR POSITION DOWNHILL
These technique pointers will boost speed while decreasing stress on the legs for reduced DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) in a day or two. Firstly, ensure you lean from your hips and not your shoulders. This adjusts your centre of gravity for better balance. Just don’t overdo it and tip over! Use your arms for balance. While flailing your arms out to the side might feel a little crazy, it’s an oft-used technique by legendary offroaders like Lesley Paterson. Don’t overstride – think circular striding – look down the hill not at your feet.
GET THE KIT
Invest in a good-quality pair of off-road run shoes. These tend to have a more aggressive tread pattern than road shoes for better grip on muddy terrain. Many feature extras like toe bumpers and reinforced sidewalls for greater protection. Depending on distance, we’d also recommend a waterproof jacket, hydration pack, fuel, navigation tool (a top-end multisport watch can come in handy here), gloves, headgear and extra layers.
Pacing’s important in all three tri disciplines but arguably even more so when it comes to off-road running. The variations in terrain, obstacles plus often quagmire surface means it’s a skill in itself to pace your efforts without hitting the wall. So, start slowly and pick up the intensity if you see fit. Yes, that sounds less scientific than running by zones but striding by feel’s arguably more beneficial than homing in on your sports watch. You could also trip if you’re laser focused on your wrist.
ENTER AN EVENT
Signing up to an off-road run race this off-season will deliver multiple benefits: it’ll give your trail running a clear focus; it’ll satiate your competitive hunger while triathlon hibernates; and you’ll enjoy running a new route. As a snapshot, there’s the Run Durham Hamsterley Remembrance Day five- and 10-miler on 13 November that’s hilly and multi-terrain; the Salcey Wet & Wild Run (7.5km and 14km options) in Salcey Forest, Northamptonshire, on 15 January 2023; and the Wild Night Run (five and 10 miles) on Dartmoor on 18 February 2023.
Sticking to the event theme, you could also sign up for an off-season, off-road multisport race. Ideally you’ll have a mountain bike for the run/bike/run format, though gravel or cyclocross bikes might be suitable if the course isn’t too gnarly. One of the standout events of the autumn/winter period is the Escape to Afan Off-Road Duathlon events over the weekend of 2627 November. Two days of hardcore Welsh action can see you compete over sprint, standard or the Extreme distance, which breaks down as a 5km trail run, 26km mountain bike and 6km trail run. Don’t be deceived by those distances – they’re incomparable with the road.
BRUSH AND BALANCE
The rugged terrain cranks up strength and fitness, but it does raise the spectre of an acute injury like an ankle sprain. That’s where a spot of balance training comes in. While cleaning your teeth, stand on one foot and lower yourself as if you’re doing a one-legged squat. Rise and repeat on the other leg. Keep doing this for the duration of your dental-hygiene routine to improve your proprioception (your body’s awareness in space).
LIGHT THE WAY
Headtorches are essential when running off-road this winter, especially in December when daylight’s depressingly banished by around 4pm. Things to consider are the brightness of your headtorch – is it sufficient for the terrain? How long’s the battery life? How comfortable is the fit? And how easy is it to use when running with gloves on? You can’t go far wrong with a Petzl, but there are plenty of quality models on the market, starting from around £30.
10 KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD
You don’t have to venture to rural retreats to benefit from off-road running. Even in the most urban of environments, you’ll have great parks, towpaths alongside canals and the occasional woods to run through. Local football fields will also add variety to pavement pounding.