Blog by Cana Peek , Pacer Coaching
Stepping into the trail running world can sometimes be as daunting as the mountain that you hope to one day run up, but certain steps can make this a lot simpler and more manageable. 
While there is no one-size-fits-all training plan; having participated, coached, and researched trail running in depth, there are certain trends to assist you in getting started. 
With any sport there are three main components that make the training more enjoyable:
1. Make it fun: get friends to join you, listen to music, use it as a time-out
2. Have a routine: this includes correct nutrition and rest.
3. Set goals, be specific and purposeful with your training: both running sessions and strength and conditioning. 
    The above is always easier said than done, especially if you have no clue when, what, and how to do it. Your time schedule and base fitness will determine how much load you can take on each week. If you have never trained consistently, 5 hours a week is a good start, included in these hours is your strengthening, cross training and running sessions. The below image is an example of one training week as a beginner trail runner. If you enjoy cross training, then either a spin or a swim will replace the Friday run session. 
    Trail running sessions differ slightly to road or track running. Trail programs focus on time, elevation, and heart rate rather than distance, cadence, and pace. A good trail running program should also emphasise form and technique.
    Beginner women trail runners may need to specifically integrate form focused sessions into their foundation training. Due to smaller joint surfaces, wider anatomical structure of their hips, and generally lower centre of gravity,  women’s running gait differs to men’s. Typically, women compensate for their greater hip angle  by inward rotation of the femur and outward rotation of the tibia, which results in a greater Quadriceps (Q) angle compared to men. It is important to keep this in mind when starting your running career, because biomechanically women runners need to be more cautious about knee injuries, especially overloading their anterior cruciate ligament. In order to decrease the likelihood of injuries, load monitoring and correct conditioning is vital to integrate throughout training sessions. 
    Form can be integrated into your stride focused running sessions:
    - Strides barefoot on a field (seen in the Friday session) 
          - Stair/hill repeats 
          - Resisted or assisted session which train stride length and stride frequency 
      Running technique can also be complimented by strength and conditioning. The strengthening sessions for trail runners are centred around functional movement and proprioception. For example, key movements, which are shown below, of strengthening programs are squats, lunges, and push-ups. To make core movements more trail specific, individualized equipment can be used such as:
      - Weights and assisted machines (depending on your experience) 
            - Bosu balls to emphasize ankle stability and basic balance 
            - Resistance bands to work smaller secondary muscles 
        If you are a woman runner that is planning to have children or has recently given birth, it is especially important that  when doing strengthening exercise, you emphasize core activation. Perineal tears are a common occurrence during birth, when returning back to exercise, pelvic floor contractions need to be re-introduced slowly and progressively.  The last three images reflect examples of women specific movements that activate greater core stability, hamstring activation and correct knee flexion that is vital to decrease the risk of injuries. 
        Each athlete may feel that they have started, consistently built up their base, but can’t progress from there.  If that happens then you’ve hit a plateau. From our experience the way out of feeling disheartened about not making progress is to add variation into your training. The simplicity of trail running that makes it so attractive, only happens because of our wonderfully complex human bodies.  If we keep our mind and bodies stimulated, then it will reward us with improvements. By challenging your body in all planes of motion your skill on the trail will exponentially increase, making you run light, easy and effortless. 
        The pyramid scheme above by Katheryn Gray (2021)  depicts what us Pacer coaches find valuable when starting training. As discussed earlier the key elements that make training enjoyable are portrayed in this pyramid from most important (the bottom) to the finer details (at the top). To make any training program effective, the athlete needs to start right at the bottom, build a solid foundation and then move up toward their specific goal. The bigger and stronger your foundation the more you can build upward. If you start off slow and consistently then you are doing it right. 
        In summary, trail running is a very dynamic sport involving so many moving parts. You have to balance work, life, and families with your aspirational fitness goals, and often feel as if you are stuck. However, there are certain key concepts, as discussed in this article, that you can do to make this process easier. If you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or lost, then it may be helpful to have some guidance in the form of a running companion with years of experience, or a coach.  Once you can get the key aspects of trail running sorted, then you will be running up mountains in no time.
        Happy Running!

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