Running in hilly terrain is about so much more than strong legs.
Running in hilly terrain is about so much more than strong legs. In fact, the arms play a big role. When running up steep hills, you can get a lot of help by really exaggerating and using the arm swing. This motion creates momentum that gives extra power. The arms can also help when running downhill. Lifting your arms and keeping your hands wide will help you keep your balance. In technical terrain and the higher the speed, the more you usually move and use your arms to help you, a movement often known as paddling.
On a flat round on asphalt, the step frequency is almost constant. When running in hilly terrain, however, there is every reason to vary the length of your stride.
When running uphill, the usual recommendation is to take shorter steps and increase the step frequency slightly. Remember also to lift your knees so that every step really covers ground uphill and not to lean forward too much. And don’t forget to use your arms! When running downhill, it is important to dare to let go and use the ‘free speed’ of the potential energy. The stride lengthens and the feet are in contact with the ground for a shorter time. The body position should be leaning forward slightly, all the way from the hips, so that the lean almost makes you ‘fall’. As the speed increases, think about not being passive when putting your foot down but to keep your focus, especially on uneven ground, or there is a big risk of misjudging the distance and not stepping straight. And when running downhill, remember to use your arms, which will greatly improve your balance.
Broken and uneven ground lower the tempo, even if the effort is the same. Don’t be frustrated that you can’t run as fast on trails as you can on the road, despite the comparable level of effort. The training effect for a quick session on varied trails is probably higher than when running on roads as the running is more interval based and because the varied ground activates more muscles. So, to avoid becoming stressed because you run slower in the forest, a tip is not to stare blindly at the tempo on your GPS watch.
For the best possible experience, you should wear appropriate shoes. When it comes to running on trails and in trackless terrain, you should therefore wear shoes developed for these activities. In the main, they differ from ‘normal’ asphalt shoes in that the midsole generally has greater torsional stability. The drop is usually lower on trail shoes as the heel doesn’t strike the ground first as often. Furthermore, the top of the shoe is usually made of a more durable material and sometimes also has reinforcement for protection when running in stony terrain. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the outsole has a pattern that provides good grip but doesn’t make mud stick in it, and the rubber compound provides grip on dry as well as wet surfaces.
One big difference between running on roads and on trails is that the ground has not been levelled. Instead it can be very varied, with stones, roots and unevenness on which it’s easy to trip or twist your ankle. In other words, running and looking at the view can result in grazes. When running on trails and in terrain it is important to look at the ground a couple of metres in front of your feet so you can choose where to put your feet down. At the same time, it’s an advantage to be able to quickly decide the route, for example on which side to pass an obstacle, which means that you also need to look even further ahead in the direction you are running. Keeping an eye on the ground a few metres in front of your feet and also having a good overview of the terrain further ahead requires some practice. But, once you’ve trained this split vision, it will give you good flow forwards even in very technical terrain.