[Editor’s Note: Scroll down for the full workshop replay on YouTube]
Can you really learn something about trail running from a Zoom workshop? You can if the instructor is 2011 World Mountain Running Champion and trail running pro Max King. I tuned into an hour-long Zoom video presentation entitled, “How to Trail Run,” on July 23, led by Max King and hosted by speciality running store FootZone Bend.
Max King’s workshop covered posture, uphill running, and downhill running with a 25-minute pre-recorded outdoor video session on the trails followed by a 30-minute question and answer forum. Like me, I’m sure the nearly 40 attendees received some great tips and techniques to use in their trail running, a few of which I will share.
Warm up a mile or so to get in a rhythm before working on specific drills or techniques. If in a group setting, spread out on the trail — not only to social distance — but also to insure you have the space to see what is in front of you on the trail underfoot. Make sure that you can view the trail at least 10 meters ahead of you to watch for obstacles, or technical aspects of the trail to avoid an unplanned fall.
Perform a posture “reset” before you start your drills. Arms overhead, back straight, hips and pelvis underneath. When pumping your arms for forward momentum, think of swinging from hips to sternum nice and tight. Keep your head up, resting comfortably on top of your shoulders…no slouching or bending unnecessarily forward. Think good posture, soft knees, straight back, and core strength.
Although everyone has a different body makeup, consider a cadence on the trails between 175-185 strides per minute. This provides a nice and tight cadence for the trails. Cadence will of course be varied depending on uphill, flat, downhill, or rolling terrain.
For uphill running, there will be some fluctuations in technique depending on whether the terrain is steeper or comprised of more gentle ascents. “Hiking and walking are both totally fine for trail running,” says Max King, “but, do it with purpose. Don’t be afraid to walk up the hills at a race, It can help keep your heart rate down.”
The idea of sustainable pace for ascending was paramount to the discussion. This brought to mind my own personal strategy which is to use a gear that can be sustained for the duration of the climb whether it is for a one-minute push, or a 30-minute ascent.
As for technique, Max King provided three options:
- The Mall Walker – used for a mellow grade. Take long steps to eat up ground underfoot with body upright. Arms are going hard and pumped to gain uphill momentum.
- The Power Hiker – a general and versatile technique with hands on knees. The body is slightly bent over, while reaching out the stride to eat up ground. Be sure to get your upper body into the motion and engage glutes.
- The Stair Stepper – useful for super steep grades regardless of the distance. Foot plant underneath upper body, likened to climbing up steps. Hands on knees to get the upper body into the motion.
“Running downhill can be hard and intimidating,” said Max King. “Practicing technique will greatly enhance the experience.” Some of this technique included the following. Be relaxed, use a shorter stride with a higher cadence, keep your feet forward so as to not lose balance (under center of gravity to enable quick reaction time should obstacles be encountered), don’t brake with heels instead brake more on the forefoot and think shock absorption – reducing the impact on joints by flexing ankles, and having soft knees.
Further, strength is important for efficient downhill running. “The stronger you are,” said Max King, “the better you will be on impact. How fast you can run downhill is strength dependent.” When running downhill, also consider what you will be landing on. Adapt to the trail conditions underfoot and look for firm foundation points on which to land.
Yoga, stretching, and foam rolling are ways to get muscles activated and help keep injuries at bay. Likewise, cross training is extremely beneficial, especially in the off-season. Consider snowshoeing, ski mountaineering, or cycling. The ElliptiGo MSUB (Mountain Stand Up Bike) is a tool Max King has started to incorporate into training over the past year. “Like it sounds, you are standing up on a bike with no seat. It puts you in a really good position to activate your running muscles and removes the impact.” When considering strength training, weightlifting specific to trail running includes dead lifts, squats, and core work. Cross training will help you become a more efficient runner.
Max King advised the group to work on one thing at a time. “Try to relax and make it fun,” he said. “I want you all to get out there and explore your boundaries. Trail running is a joy of celebrating land and nature.”
Max King is sponsored by Salomon Running. Salomon Running is also an American Trail Running Association corporate member.