Boost your fitness – all while reaping the wellness benefits of getting outside this winter –with these trail running tips for beginners from The North Face athlete and one of Europe’s strongest ultrarunners, Ida-Sophie Hegemann.
Try our best trail running shoes for women.
1. Lean forwards on downhills
Novice trail runners often look forward to the downhill sections but then discover that steep, uneven ground is a nightmare to run down smoothly. Ida-Sophie offers a counter-intuitive solution: ‘If you lean forwards in the downhills, then you are slowing down with your whole body rather than just with your knees. It’s really important to have good balance and technique on the downhills, otherwise, you will have super heavy legs and develop problems with runner’s knee.’
2. Start with shorter distances
Organised trail running events often have much longer courses than with road runs, and the off-road ultra-running scene is booming across the UK. But that doesn’t mean your first forays into trail running should be long-distance epics, particularly in winter where conditions are harder and days are shorter. Injury-free fitness is best built up gradually and the same is true for gaining experience of the outdoors.
‘It’s important to do the short distances, to build up good technique and a feeling of security in the mountains before you do longer runs,’ says Ida-Sophie.
3. Resist walking uphill
You’ll find steeper, longer and more rugged uphill sections on trail runs, so there’s an immediate temptation to drop to a fast walk and get the walking poles out – something Ida-Sophie sees beginners do a lot.
‘It’s important you start with running uphill,’ she explains. ‘You can switch into walking with poles at some point, but you should always start with running uphill first. I find it’s easier to get into a running rhythm if you run uphill, even if it’s very slowly. Then, when you get to the top of the hill, you can immediately start to run down without having to find a new rhythm.’
She also recommends using your hands to push on your thighs as the slope steepens, before eventually using poles and walking on super-steep sections, if needed.
4. Prioritise speed
When it comes to performance, if you do want to mix with the fitter competitors in a trail running event, Ida-Sophie says it’s important to prioritise speed over miles. She herself switched from road running to ultras and says it’s the speed she developed there and managed to carry across that gives her the edge.
‘It’s important to keep up the speed. If you change the course, you run directly to the ultra races, then you will not work on your speed anymore. If you are going from doing a 10K road race then your first trail running races should not be more than 20K-35K.’
5. Do intervals
Ida-Sophie says the most important thing to improve as a trail runner is to do intervals. ‘I think most runners forget about doing intervals, not just on the mountain but also in flat areas to improve speed.’
Not only will she use intervals in her training but she will also keep changing their duration to keep her body adapting to the training stimulus. ‘For example, you can first do one minute fast, then two minutes fast, or 10 minutes fast, so your body does not get used to it.’
6. Enjoy the moment
One of the main reasons Ida-Sophie made the switch from the roads to the trails was the mental benefits of being out in nature, and moving through the landscape using her own body.
‘The thing I like most about trail running is being out in nature and having the feeling that I’m reaching everywhere on my own with my own body. You can push very hard and feel your body’s limits but you can still push harder. Then, at the summit, there is a nice view and everything else seems so small.’