Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Trail Running: I Need Your Help

As I've noted before, I've decided to venture into trail running this year.  And I know absolutely nothing about it!  Starting next week I've got a series of races planned for the remainder of the year that start at a 10K and will eventually work up to a 50K.  Here are a few things for which I need help.  If you know anything about trail/ultra running, can you help out?

There are only two or three trails around these parts to train on and they're not very technical.  They are metro parks that have gravel, maintained trails.  I only run on trail once a week and the remainder of time on the roads.  However, the races I am planning may have more technical trails with roots, rocks, grass, etc.  Right now I am doing all my training, including my trail training, in a pair of road-specific running shoes.  After messing up my ankle in high school during tennis camp, I have really weak ankles, and roll it every single time I run on the trails.  Should I invest in a pair of trail shoes?  Do they really make that much of a difference on the trails? Can it help my weak ankles?  One of the trail races I am doing has about 10% off the race on paved roads.  Is it bad to wear trail shoes on pavement?

I am a little OCD about hydrating while racing long.  I only drink water and I must, must, must drink every mile.  Obviously with trail racing there is not a water stop at every single mile.  I will need to carry water with me.  I see a lot of trail runner's wearing the hydration backpacks or using handhelds.  I don't particularly like carrying a handheld.  I know it can break your fall if you trip without messing up your hands, but I find them annoying and heavy.  My max distance for carrying one is about 6 miles.  I have a Nathan water belt which I wear on all my long runs.  Wouldn't it be easier to refill the water bottles in this pack than having to take the bladder out of a backpack?  Is there a reason to wear one of the hydration backpacks as opposed to a water belt? 

This may be the most interesting topic for me when it comes to ultra running?  Why do people eat all that real food during an ultra?  I'm talking potato chips and PBJ and whatnot.  Especially for a 50K, it really confuses me.  A 50K is *only* 6 miles than a marathon.  I've always only eat gels during a marathon.  I would only need to eat 1-2 more gels during a 50K.  What's the reason behind eating real food as opposed to gels?

I have been road racing now for 12 years and I know exactly what to expect to pace during a race.  My body has been fine-tuned to realize even slight deviations in pace.  I do not wear a Garmin during racing yet I can hit consistent time intervals mile after mile after mile.  But when it comes to trail racing, I have no idea what I'm doing.  I know I have to slow down.  It's just not the same - the terrain, the hills - can really change things.  But what kind of pacing should I expect?  Do I intentionally practice at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00/miles or do I just run freely and see what comes of it?  And I read a lot of race reports that say it's easier/faster to walk up some hills as oppose to run up them.  How do I determine that?  Do you practice that?

Internet, I need your help!  Any insight is helpful.  Please leave me a comment if you know ANYTHING about trail racing.


Andrea Hill said...

Gah!!!! I just finished a long post and blogger ate it :-(

Shoes: trail running shoes can vary a LOT! They're good for a few reasons - they can be made to help keep dirt and dust out, and some are more rigid to help with those rocks, etc. Like regular running, there are two camps: minimalist "feel the rocks" and the "pillow-like" Hokas. I have hokas, but I've managed to turn my ankle on those as well, which sucks. But they're amazing for downhills, you really don't feel a thing in your knees and feet!

Hydration: I have a camelbak backpack which chafed me something fierce, so I'm not a fan. It does seem like people either wear camelbaks or handhelds, not fuel belts.. not sure why exactly other than perhaps volume of fluid you can carry? Well, at ease of use - if it's in your hand there's no fumbling.

Nutrition: don't consider trail runs in terms of miles (especially since a lot of them are inaccurate), but rather time. My first took me over 8 hrs, the next was 6:15. Consider your triathlon fueling as a starting point - what sort of fuel do you use for a 70.3? I have found I do get hungry on trail runs, I'm not sure if it's because they require more effort b/c of climbs etc so they burn more calories, or because you're not going as fast so blood isn't diverted from your digestive system. But if you thought you were hungry after a 20 miler, just wait til you start trail training! You will find a bear in your stomach you didn't know existed!

Training Paces - you'll have to ditch the watch for trail running, it's just not comparable at all. Training at a 10 min pace on paved flat road won't do anything to help you prepare for a rocky climb. I think it's really more about just honing in on how hard you can power through something without blowing up. Honestly - if you can, practice hiking! Pretty well every trail runner hikes some part of a race, because it's more efficient than running and burning your legs and lungs out. But some of us are horrific hikers and get passed by other walkers. So do as I say and not as I do and practice power hiking for part of your training.
My friend who won the Leadville marathon last year uses the stairmaster for training - up to 3 hours of alternating an hour on the stairmaster with bursts of running on the treadmill to get her legs used to that switch in speed and orientation.

Lastly - I'd recommend some agility drills to help prepare you for rocks, roots, etc. I have thought more than once that my derby agility training helped my trail running. You know those quick-feet shuffles you see football players doing? That sort of thing, or using an agility ladder or anything else that helps you get used to doing anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. You'll want to be light on your feet and able to readjust where your foot is about to land right before it plants - just in case. I was told once to be "be a billy goat" on the trails. I'm still not QUITE sure what that means, but maybe you can figure it out?

Have fun with it!!!

..:danielle:.. said...

wow, it looks like andrea gave you a lot of great advice! ive only done one trail race and it wasnt terribly technical, but it was still a trail race.
i have no idea about shoes, i just wore my normal ones and i felt ok.
i actually like my camelbak but if youre going to need to refill it, id say the belt will be easier to refill the bottles. it is a pain to refill the camelbak (although you dont have to take the pack out).
i used just normal fuel that i was used to from marathon training for my trail run, but i did snag a few pretzels that were out at the fueling station for the salt. i wasnt wanting to change anything up too much and make my stomach all upset. i once brought a pb sandwich and potato chips on a marathon but i knew it was going to be a long day out there and needed actual food so i didnt bonk.
i would suggest doing training runs on the actual path if you can, or atleast on some technical trails. i didnt do that and i regret it (it really helps to know how to move your body and adjust your steps on trails vs the road).
not all that helpful but hopefully you can get more insight as you move along! good luck!

Vanessa said...

I'm an avid trail and ultrarunner. I've completed three 100-mile races so far and run/train/play exclusively on trails.

I agree with everything Andrea said, and would add one thing about hydration belts:

They're tricky on technical terrain because there's a LOT more bouncing around than a road run, or even a flat trail. If your trail is very technical/hilly, you may experience a lot of discomfort or chaffing from the belt. It's going to rub you in ways you're not used to.

That said, if you can train on a similar trail and you feel comfortable with the belt, by all means stick with what you know and love!

When I started trail running, I wasn't used to handhelds but it's doesn't take long to get used to them, and they are by far the best option for me. Here's a rundown why:


So much of trail running is personal preference though, so my only real suggestion is to run trails, run trails, run trails, and don't be afraid to do what works for you. The closer you can simulate your race day trails, the better.

Any other questions, I'm happy to help! Feel free to email anytime at vanessaruns@gmail.com, or check out more trail goodies at vanessaruns.com.

Best of luck!

Jeffrey Smith said...

The more technical the trail, the more trail shoes will be a factor. Ignoring the whole minimalist debate, trail shoes will give you a more rigid platform on technical terrain than a road shoe. The cushioning isn't as important because the surface you're running on isn't as hard as road. Find something with a nice, rigid sole, with lugs going both directions for added traction and made out of a material that is 'tacky', like Vibram. Weight does become important the longer you run, so look for something on the lighter side, too. I'm a big fan of the Salomon and Inov8 shoes and have friends who swear by La Sportiva and Brooks.

HydrationYou're going to be on the trail a lot longer than a marathon and perspiring differently than road racing. I've gone both routes, hand helds and packs and I prefer the pack route. The pack allows me to carry what I want and have more access to fluids when I want them. Handhelds will let you move faster, but if you fall and bust one open, you're SOL until the next aid station. There are a wealth of packs that sit nicely on the back and don't jostle. Also, most hydration packs today allow for filling the bladder without removing it, making aid station refueling easier. If you're a sports drink user, I highly recommend carrying a handheld and your powder along with your pack. Use the pack to fill your handheld and mix while on the move, but keep water in the bladder. You'll want water for any number of reasons. Take a spill and need to wash the dirt out of your wounds? Gatorade isn't the ideal rinse fluid ;)

NutritionAndrea hit on the time you're out on the trail for some of these races. You're using quite a bit more energy than racing a marathon and limiting yourself to just gels and blocks, etc, gets the tummy feeling a little funky after a while. Solid, but easily digestible food really hits the spot. The PBJ slices are great for some sugar and protein, and the chips are great for added salt. I'm a big fan of combining Lara bars, GU, brownies, and ginger snaps [ginger is the silver bullet for stomach issues during long races] for my nutritional needs on the go and the occasional fruit and salted potatoes from the aid stations. Most of this is based on what your stomach can handle and your personal tastes, though. This sport will give you the freedom to experiment with real food and is a refreshing change from the heavily processed sports food from Tri/Marathon nutrition.

Training PacesThrow your pacing out the window. Run by feel. Learn by doing. But most importantly, always keep moving. Always. Feel like crap? Walk till you feel better, but never, ever stop that forward movement. You'll be amazed with how the body cycles through highs and lows. Continuing to move will give you the rest you need to recover and move through that low spot. I have a tendency to have a low spot around mile 18-20 while on trails, so I would take those times to walk, mix a bottle, eat something solid, look around a bit and not feel guilty about moving slower. And I have the hardest time walking hills. I'm a billy goat and love to hammer the climbs, but there are times the grade just is too much and a long, steep climb is just going to blow your heart rate through the roof and wipe you out for later in the race. Try power hiking a climb and if you're able to keep a comparable pace to your running pace, switch to hiking to save energy.

Hope that helps! And I'm always available to answer questions. You've got my number, call me, maybe? =)