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How to Prepare for Different Types of Trail Running Environments


high mountains with glaciers covered behind clouds and under clean blue sky with smaller hill in the front

No two trails are alike, and you can never run the same trail twice. Unlike road running where it’s just tar, trail running surfaces and environments can and do change through the course. Preparing and training for a trail race (or even a trail run) requires the feet to be comfortable stepping on anything that the trail throws up, and at the same time, being prepared for whatever else may appear in front of you.

No two trails are alike, and you can never run the same trail twice.

In this article, we share some basic tips for preparing yourself for different types of trail running environments and surfaces.


Forests


Jungle trail surfaces are often soft but full of thorns, shrubs and bushes. To add to it, there will be mystical insects that would love to taste what you have to offer. Further, dense forests are a navigational challenge. Here’s what we recommend for preparing for a jungle trail:

  • Use shoes with a thicker outsole or a rock plate - While a rock plate may not protect against thorns that pierce right through your underfoot, a thick outsole will give some protection. Together, they’re good to be guarded against unwanted pricks.

  • Watch what’s moving - Behind the dense bushes, can be anything. Be mindful and watchful of sudden movements in front of and around you, and to the extent possible, avoid stepping on leaves and bushes and only step on a clear spot on the trail.

  • Orient yourself - It’s easy to get lost in forests. Orientation, therefore, plays a very important role in a successful forest run. With narrow trails running in all directions, GPS devices might not be able to capture the direction accurately, which makes it all the more important to remember where you came from and have a directional sense of where you need to go.

forest trail with kikar trees, bushes and thorns, and a camel up front
Deep in the forests of Asola Bhatti, head up with a camel

Mountains


Mountain trails can be hard and slippery with steep climbs and sharp changes in climate. Mountains are also home to wildlife that can be a threat if not prepared for. Here are some basics for prepping for your next mountain trail:

  • Get shoes with deep lugs - Deeper lugs will help with better grip while running down. Sliding down a slippery downhill is never a good idea.

  • Go easy on uphills and hard on downhills - Mountain uphills are not the typical 200m ‘hills’ with 50m of ascent - they usually go on forever. Additionally, higher altitudes also pose the challenge of lower oxygen levels. A mountain trail (or race) is not about climbing up hard, as much as it is about saving enough power and energy to recover and come down. Going easy but steady on the uphills ticks all the marks.

  • Respect the mountains - Mountains are as exciting as they are intimidating. While ‘conquering’ the mountain may be your goal, you need to do it with respect. Any mishap in the mountains can be extremely difficult to trace or get help on time. Be careful, respectful and go easy.

trail leading up a hill with high mountains and glaciers visible in the background
The beautiful Triund trail with the mighty Dhauladhars in the backdrop

Slush


Running in rainy conditions can add to the excitement as well as the risks of getting badly injured. Slush-fests can get slippery, and more importantly, one might not know ‘what lies beneath’. These simple tips should help you get through the next slush-fest:

  • Go around and go slow - If there’s a way around the slush, use that - even if it slows you down. For one, you won’t know how deep the pool is. A misstep here can cost much more than a few seconds off your race (or run) time. The last thing you want is to go fast and slip and fall.

  • The mindful (first) step - If going around is not an option, take extra care and watch where you’re stepping. There may be stones that act as a bridge through the slush, stepping on which is always a good idea. If going through the slush is unavoidable, always measure and read the spot where you’re stepping.

  • Watch for movement - Water and slush pools can house anything from insects to worms to snakes. While crossing a slush pool, watch for movement and tread carefully.

black shoes in mud, slush and water
Kshitish enjoying the slush-fest at SET 2019 near Pune, Maharashtra

Rocks


Rocks are the sort of technical terrain that one needs to be the most careful of. Running on rocks is the ultimate test of control, balance and stability. It is also an adrenaline rush arising out of fearlessness, but can cause some serious injuries if not handled carefully. Here’s our advice:

  • Keep a soft step - Rocks are hard and there’s no point in landing hard on them. Instead, train yourself to land light but keep a springy step to build momentum.

  • Don’t overcompensate - Rocks will slow you down and it’s best to accept that and go slow. Rocks can get pretty sharp and one wrong step can have extremely dangerous repercussions.

  • Use your hands - Especially if the climb is rocky, don’t hesitate to use your hands. It’ll still be counted as a foot race and not an all-fours run.

an uneven trail of broken rocks in a forest
A rocky pathbreaker somewhere deep in the forests of Mangar

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