10 beginner trail running mistakes

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 28/07/2016
Author Sarah Stirling running in Provence. Photo: Sarah Stirling
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Thinking of hitting the trails? We've got passionate trail runner Sarah Stirling with her 10 most common beginner mistakes to avoid, making sure you start out on the right foot and don’t get injured before you get going.

1. The terrible toos

The most common beginner mistake is: too much, too fast, too soon. I quickly got addicted when I first took up the sport, and remember saying: “I never get tired of running!” “Well then,” someone replied, logically but falsely, “You need to run further or faster!”

Actually, the best thing you can do when you start out, is rein it in. Build a solid foundation of short, easy, aerobic miles before you start adding the bricks of pushing your pace, distance, or training uphill. Let your body adjust to what you’re doing to it with this high-impact sport. Take plenty of days off. Play the long game.

2. Keep track

The generally accepted rule is to increase mileage by 10% per week, max. This isn't just a boring made-up rule – well it kind of is, and everyone's different – but there’s logic behind it. Running's a funny thing, and you may well not realise what niggles and fatigue you are setting in store for yourself until 3-4 weeks later, when your body tips over a breaking point.

A good habit to get into is keeping a simple log of your mileage in a notebook, and adding pace, time and other details like how you felt if you want, but consider keeping it simple to encourage yourself to keep it up to date. 

3. The app addict

When my brother first started out running, he got addicted to something different: running the same loop and trying to beat his PB on a running app every time. The problem with this, besides all the above, is that you will make heady gains until you inevitably reach a plateau, which can be discouraging; and that, hand-in-hand with suddenly finding you have niggles and fatigue a few weeks later, could well end up in enforced rest and you being put off. Also, you're likely to be a bit of a bambi when you first start running off-road. Focusing on learning good technique rather than pushing your pace will ensure you don't twist an ankle! 

WATCH: Nicky Spinks run the Bob Graham Round on BMC TV

4. Spice it up

Other people I know did something different: got into a habit of always running the same loop at the same pace. This won't increase your fitness, and will get pretty boring! I'd recommend mixing up your pace and speed – if you want to improve and stay motivated.

Once you've built a base of easy, short aerobic runs, try this: one short speed or hill-work session, one short tempo run (comfortably hard), and a longer, very easy run with friends at the weekend, at a pace where you can catch up on all the goss! Why not join a trail running club? From what I've seen, all trail runners are amazing, generous, fun-loving people who are inspiring to be around.

5. Listen to your body not your GPS

Remember that trail running takes longer than road running. The trails are technical, hilly, slippery, rocky, loose; so it's best to keep your eye on them and not your watch! Also, being able to see your pace on a GPS is handy, but your body is not a machine.

Perceived exertion – i.e. how your body feels – is more important than pace. If you start to feel aches and pains, or are feeling particularly fatigued, listen to what your body is telling you and ease up. It can be hard to tell when your body actually needs a rest and when you are just feeling lazy at the start. This will come with practice, but err on the side of caution to begin with.

6. The wrong shoes

The other mistake I made when I started out was running in the trainers I already had lying around, as I didn’t want to splash out on expensive running shoes. I ended up getting shin splints and having to take a few months off, which was difficult once I was addicted and it was summer! The beauty of running is its simplicity; you really don’t need much, but you do need good shoes. I really recommend you go to a specialist running shop where they will look at your feet and legs and figure out what shoes suit you best.

7. "Actually, I'm an ultrarunner, and kind of a big deal..."

In one of those odd quirks, it's become particularly trendy to run a long way very slowly, when in fact different lengths of runs are fun and challenging for different reasons. My personal favourite distance is actually half-marathon, because it's long enough to feel like a good outing, and I can run hard all the way round (when feeling competitive!), which people rarely do on an ultramarathon – there can be a lot of walking involved, especially on mountainous circuits. It might not be the best idea to set your sights on entering a marathon straightaway, but having an event to train for can be incredibly motivating, so start low and build up to those longer distances.

WATCH: Find your trail on BMC TV

8. Rein it in

The most common beginner running form mistake is overstriding, which makes you land heel first. A longer stride doesn't lead to a faster pace, it leads to injuries and enforced rest! And it doesn't actually make you more efficient, as you are effectively braking with each foot strike, especially if you run like this on downhills. Aim to run with short quick steps, landing on your mid- to forefoot. And don't forget, bridleways are your friends in the early days, as they're usually wider and more even than footpaths, with less hidden trip hazards.

9. Rest

Don't run every day when starting out. In fact, when you first start running, it’s a good idea to rest as many days as you run. Your muscles build and repair themselves during your rest days. 

10. Don't listen to too much advice

Running is a simple sport and all the more fun for it. So don't get too bogged down in what know-it-alls tell you. Yawn. Just take it easy and enjoy it.

 

A photo posted by Sarah Stirling (@sarah_stirling) on

READ: Natural highs: are all runners just organic junkies?

READ: Trail secrets: how to run downhill

READ: Trail running: 5 things I wish I'd known when starting out


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