I bar-hopped my way around several sports during my twenties. Admittedly I usually stayed for more than just a drink, only giving up climbing, cycling and finally road running once forcefully ejected due to injury or excess. Before moving on, though, I often got to know some of the regulars, whose long relationship with their sport was still remarkably fresh.
Trail running, with all its variety, is where I have managed to keep my focus for several years now. The secret, I am slowly learning, is to look beyond mere fitness goals and achievement.
If you’ve been trail running for a couple of years and haven’t been injured, it’s either because you have been very smart about your training or it’s in the mail. Recovery from a first injury is where many trail runners give up. Racing lots, or always running the same route at the same quick pace puts you on the fast-track to physio.
You can help avoid injury by completing recovery runs, as well as tackling varied terrain at different speeds, providing the stimulation to allow your body to get stronger. Better still, tear yourself away from one of your weekly trail runs, replacing it with strength training. Press ups, sit ups and plank exercises will strengthen your core for those dynamic and asymmetric strides taken when running on uneven ground.
If you liked routine you would play squash every Tuesday with Nigel. If you liked soft-touch you would swing weights with a personal trainer and then Jacuzzi. But instead you chose trail running. There must be something about you that relishes rain and embraces adversity. That’s not to say you need to suffer. Just make sure you put yourself in a situation every once in a while where you are able to dig deep.
Running the same race or route faster doesn’t count. Nor does buying hardcore gear or stating your trail intentions. You need to get out there. Run the long way home when the weather is nasty. Keep training with a head torch when the nights draw in. Get out early on Saturday before life gets in the way (hangover regardless).
And try tackling terrain where you have to use your hands, or signing up for a challenge that gives you night sweats. As you recalibrate your brain so extreme discomfort now registers as mild inconvenience, you will increase your capacity for ever greater challenges. The positive effects will be experienced well beyond just your trail running.
The worst and most serious mistake you can make with trail running is taking it all too seriously. Make sure you do it for yourself, and try leaving your watch, phone and Apps like Strava turned off sometimes. Getting back to basics and learning to use a map and compass brings new independence and confidence to your running.
Your new capabilities can be stretched further by bringing another person into the sport and by shepherding them to places they wouldn’t imagine their feet could take them. And never forget your old local trails. Dash out and run them in jeans, or after a beer if it makes you happy. Life is short. And there are only so many trails you can run before closing time.