Is trail running for you? Yes. It is!
I’ve spent a long time trying to get better at running, hampered by a poor diet and other lifestyle choices that don’t correspond with fitness excellence. My previous strategy has been to indulge in one long run a week, say twenty to forty kilometers depending on my next event, and then some cross-training like HIIT classes, spinning or pool swimming. While I made slow improvements and completed all the events I set my mind to, I wasn’t making the vast jumps in ability that others seemed to make. I was also spending lots of time recovering after the long runs! But that’s fine; we can’t always prioritise these things and managing life can divert you for very good reasons.
This is why I’m writing this post. Earlier in the year, in the nacense of the pandemic, we’d completed a 50k ultra race in addition to a couple of exploratory long runs around London. That put my total distance at around 140km for both January and March, which is the furthest I’d run on a monthly basis for a long time. The omens for the rest of the year were good! But….2020….amiright!?! As lockdown hit, all our plans for races were cancelled (understandably) and we were at a loss. The races and the social part afterwards were always the draw for me. Would I have to start looking at…training more (eww)?
Joking aside, many people have taken the opportunity to reset their training. Why not me? I did a bit of reading, listened to some experts and seized on an idea. To get better at running, I needed to up my mileage. Not a surprising concept! At the same time virtual races started popping up as race organisers pivoted in reaction to the new environment. One of particular interest was created by Ultra Challenge (Boost it for June) and featured a number of different distances to run from 50 to 500km, with the reward of a colorful buff. I went for 100km, but with a target to hit 150km. Rather than going for a few huge runs, I thought I’d spread out the pain over the week and incorporate some speed runs as well; definitely not something I’d done for a few years with my focus on long and slow!
It started well and I hit 24km in the first week and 34km in the second week. Come the third week however I started to feel my bones creaking with another 37km down. I limped through one more run to get over the 100km target (I wanted that buff!) and marked myself as too injured to continue. I found this a bit disheartening: I had done less distance with more frequent running, but couldn’t get near the 140km I ran in January and March.
Time for a re-think
I know the guilty party. Myself obviously. I don’t have the greatest running form and I’m not exactly light and dainty. All my longer runs usually occur on trail with a few kms on concrete to get out into the countryside. I tend to run shorter distances on concrete paths through local parks. Upping the distance on this surface had horribly backfired. This also wasn’t the first time I had learned this lesson! Road marathon training a few years back had given the same result: a sore knee and a dodgy hip before I then graduated to trail marathons and ultra-marathons.
I did some research on Garmin Connect and checked out the local heat maps, working out how I could fit in as little road running as possible. Once I’d recovered a bit, I started again with a renewed focus. All my runs would be at a relaxed pace on trails and I would cut out the speed work until I could sustain a higher mileage. July saw 84km as I eased myself back into running, 100km in August and 117km in September. Quite slow increases, but sustainability was my focus.
Thankfully it seems to have worked. I recently hit my first 40km week since I last ran an ultra-marathon. I also feel fine with no aches or pains, as opposed to how I feel normally after that much running! I put most of that down to running on trails at a relaxed pace. Now I can focus on adding longer/ quicker runs and upping my mileage more. Definitely worth a go if you keep picking up injuries.