Improve your trail-mountain running
Trail running in the mountains takes it to a whole new level and opens up spectacular landscapes – here’s all you need to know to start making rapid progress, thanks to the extensive knowledge of Chloë Lanthier.
As an elite endurance athlete, her achievements include being the 24 Hours of Mountain Biking world champion, female top 10s in the Marathon des Sables, the world’s toughest footrace, and high-ranking performances in numerous high altitude trail running races.
Here are her top tips to help you improve technique, speed and endurance in a format which will add great variation to your running skills and enjoyment…
It's very important to focus on exhaling every three steps or so, especially when ascending or running at a higher intensity. It helps regularise a breathing pattern, maintain a steadier heartbeat and gets rid of toxins in the lungs - especially at higher altitudes.
Pacing for the trail
Being consistent is the key to saving energy - muscularly and cardiovascularly, and promotes good form. Maintain quick leg turnover, a steady pace for your ﬁtness and focussing on not speeding up or slowing down on and off throughout the workout. When the trail gets steeper, reduce stride length and keep legs moving quickly.
Frequency of runs better predict race times and quicker ﬁtness than any other variables. A minimum of four workouts per week is best to gain speed and endurance for the distance. It’s more beneﬁcial to train more days per week with shorter runs, keeping a longer run for the weekend, as opposed to two to three runs per week at a slow pace.
Each workout should have a speciﬁc objective, with easy and harder days. Economy workouts help to sharpen speed while building leg strength and stamina. Vertical training gives resistance for the climbs and boosts cardio for the demanding terrain. Longer, moderate runs increase resistance to fatigue and give greater endurance - the distance becomes the intensity!
The mountain terrain is the chief measure of difﬁculty. The focus and primary goal of training should be on time and progression. Have a broad range of trail difﬁculty, keep track of improvement from trail to trail with time, as well as logging total vertical gain and the distance run for each trail.
To be stronger and faster on hills you need to train on them not just run or walk them! Vertical training develops leg strength, cadence, alleviates the impact of hard running on ﬂat surfaces, and gives greater stamina for longer and steeper terrain. Once a week or every ten days, do 45 minutes to an hour of various uphill intervals.
The soreness that can be felt in the quadriceps comes mostly from downhill running due to the eccentric loading - muscle lengthening versus shortening. The muscle is usually weaker in this position and the ﬁbres break down, causing pain. Short quick steps - reducing absorption time in your stance - using arms for balance, avoiding overstriding and ‘air time’, will promote better form and build speciﬁc strength for the descents. So when doing Vertical training, also add downhill repeats to the list!
Trail-mountain running is demanding, especially with the extra volume, challenging terrain and the impact on the body. Quality recovery is a necessity to stay ﬁt, injury free and to maintain good energy from day to day. Two days off in a row, eating within an hour post-workout, spraying cold water on legs after runs, and regular massage are a few examples to help achieve better recovery.
Equipment and safety for the trail
Heading into the mountains for a run is very different to heading to the park. Temperature can change quickly, plus safety and rescue are not always around the corner. Always be prepared - the minimum you should carry is a litre of water with electrolytes, a small snack or energy bar, a fully charged mobile phone, sunglasses, lightweight wind jacket, buff or hat, light gloves, and headlamp with fresh batteries. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you are heading and expected time of return.
Running is a technical sport and can be demanding on the body. Take care of yourself like you take care of your bike! Work on proper running form with a coach, build a functional core, address muscular imbalances, increase lower leg strength, ankle/foot proprioception, and power at the hips. More stability on the ground, quicker absorption, stronger toe-off, increased control and energy plus fewer falls will be experienced as a result.
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(All images in this article are copyright Chloë Lanthier and X-Training School)