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Trail running offers a different set of challenges to road running. Loose soil, rocky terrain and overgrown roots can all trip you up and cause serious injuries. However, trail running can benefit you in ways that road running can't.
It’s a welcome change from trudging next to blaring traffic and inhaling exhaust fumes; there’s a sense of serenity you get to enjoy from running amid nature and there’s also a more scenic environment to enjoy that adds to the freshness of each trail experience. Importantly, it turns you into a fitter runner.
Take it from Terence Chiew, who's been running everything from half marathons to ironmans to trails for the past nine years. Terence, a participant of The North Face 100, which is the region's largest trail running series, enjoys how trail runs give him a workout like no other. “Trail running will inevitably mean running up and down hills, over uneven terrain and making frequent, sudden changes in direction to avoid potholes. This requires the core muscles, the quads, hamstrings and ankle stability to be well developed to tackle these challenges.”
Jeri Collett, another participant of The North Face 100, agrees that going off-road has improved her. Since switching to trails in mid-2009, the keen marathoner says, “It’s definitely made me a better runner, both physically and mentally. Doing a road race without a heavy pack on hard, unyielding road feels relatively easy compared to a trail event. So much more flexibility and core strength is required to keep you upright on the trails.”
Jeri adds, “Running trails has also made me more aware of what I’m doing with my body as I run, like where I’m putting my feet and having to constantly adapt to the terrain as it changes.”
If you’re new to trail running, follow these tips to better handle the challenge:
Wear The Right Shoes
Terence suggests getting a shoe with more support on the ankle to prevent excessive and unnecessary motion at the ankle. Trail shoes are made to provide better protection and comfort while running on undulating terrain, and also to keep dirt or small stones from creeping in. The last thing you need is to suffer a cut at the start of a 10km run.
These trail shoes often come with lug soles, which are traditionally designed for better traction and stability. Regular running shoes may not give you the grip you need on the trails and can cause you to slip easily. Not sure what sort of qualities to look for in a trail shoe? Check out this video we’ve made.
Bring Extra Water (And Maybe Money)
You may want to invest in a hydration pack, like a CamelBak, when you head out for longer trail runs, suggests Terence. Even if you're not, it pays to have some H2O ready, especially in our climate. Because of the unpredictable terrain (and especially if it is steep), trail running can tax you nearly doubly as hard compared to running on a flat road. That means you're going to get fatigued faster and re-hydration will be crucial.
Some backpacks in the market have an in-built hydration pack compartment and you'll also have space to carry snacks, your phone, maybe some money and even ankle tape for unexpected injuries. Kiasu? Maybe, but you never know what could happen in those terrain, especially when there's no gas station or convenience store along your route.
Start With Easier Trails
Until you get better used to trail running or get bored of the routes, stick to easier trails. Jeri advises,"My rule of thumb is never run further than you're prepared to run back." You can upgrade your routes once you're in better shape or you've clocked a few trail runs under your belt. "There are more challenging trails in Singapore such as the Bukit Timah mountain biking trail. These trails have more and steeper climbs than the ones in Macritchie reservoir," says Terence. Just watch out for rampaging mountain bikers on the weekends.
Watch Where You’re Running
Running on a straight road or the track is simple. Left after right, right after left and you won’t go wrong. It’s different on the trails where you need to be fully aware of where you’re going; if it’s not the monkeys lazing about the paths at Macritchie, then it’s the hidden roots and branches that can cause you to stumble and cause injuries. Descends can also pose problems for those with bad knees or ankles, cautions Terence.
According to Jeri, “Road runners will find that their average speed drops on trails due to the need to pick your route with care. Trail running is a multi-sensory experience and you can’t just switch off and pound the pavement. It really gets you involved in the whole experience, dirt and all. I’d say take it steady, watch where you’re putting your feet, and enjoy it!”
MH Interview: Terence Chiew Running ultra-long distances requires a strong mind more than elite physical fitness, according to Terence Chiew. This trail and desert running enthusiast shares some racing tips ahead of The North Face 100.