What Trail Runners can Learn from the Steeplechase

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Tayte is a graduate of the University of Portland (Oregon) where he dreamed of trail running any time he saw a track.

The steeplechase and trail running have more in common than one might think. The steeplechase is a unique distance track event where runners encounter barriers and water jumps. The most common distance is 3000 meters (almost 2 miles) and includes 28 barriers and 7 water jumps over the course of the race. Barriers are set at 36 inches and a water jumps landing area is 12 feet long and 70 centimeters deep.

Although trail runners don’t have to worry about barriers and water pits, obstacles may be encountered on trails including roots, rocks, and water crossings. Both steeplechase athletes and trail runners face not only the challenges of the distance and competition, but the additional challenges of the course itself. As well, the pace changes required in the steeplechase are very similar to pace changes in trail running.

I’ve had the pleasure of training with many steeplechase athletes in college and come to understand several of their core training principles. Listed below are three core steeplechase training principles that can help us be faster, smarter and more efficient trail runners.

Practice Mobility Drills

Many runners focus on stretching, but often forget about the importance of mobility drills. While stretching is beneficial for relieving overly tight muscles, mobility drills help you obtain larger ranges of motion in the joints and improve your stride. Mobility drills for hips and ankles are especially important for steeplechasers to maneuver over barriers and water jumps with good form.

Steeplechase mobility drills will train trail runners to have a more efficient stride and maneuver better over obstacles and turns on trails. Ankle mobility drills are especially important on rocky trails that require your feet to land and push off at various angles. Check out the video below to see examples of steeplechase mobility drills.

Loosen Up

Steeplechasers practice staying loose in their races to go faster and avoid injury. The body’s natural response when encountering barriers and water jumps at high speeds is to tense up, which causes poor form or injuries. Steeplechasers practice staying loose in situations where the body tends to tighten up.

Staying loose can help trail runners better handle stressful situations on trails. Steep downhills can cause your body to tighten up, which can make it difficult to move smoothly and puts more pressure through your muscles and joints. Loosening up will help you run faster and safer on technical downhills.

Focus on Form

During a race, steeplechasers must constantly be aware of their running form. When runners get tired in a race, it can be more difficult to maintain good running form. Steeplechasers must be especially aware of their form so as to be able to get over hurdles and water jumps when tired.

Over the course of long trail races, it’s easy for our bodies to get tired and lose form. Running with poor form makes you less able to respond to challenges on trails and wastes energy. When you encounter large hills, snow patches, or other difficult sections of trail, notice your form. Pick up your cadence when it slows, keep your chest open when you slouch and land lightly when you hear your feet pounding the ground. Holding good form when running gets tough and saves you energy to run faster and farther.

Tags: , ,