I have to admit, as a relatively new runner, the idea of running trails made me a bit nervous.
Throughout my life – during the teen years, especially – I tended to twist/sprain my ankle easily. My mom always said I inherited “weak ankles” from my dad. (Is there even such a thing as “weak ankles”? ) Anyway, the potential for sprain or worse freaks me out on the trail. I always envision myself rolling my ankle on a rock or on uneven terrain.
But, say the experts, I’m worrying a bit more than necessary. “Your body does an amazing job anticipating and making corrections,” said running coach Lauren Evans, owner of Fizio in Reno, NV.
Tina Vindum, founder of Outdoorfitness.com, agrees. “Your brain is recording,” she said. “Trust yourself.”
As a matter of fact, it’s a neurological process, and there’s a name for it. Proprioception. Simply put, it’s the body’s sense of self. Proprioception is guided by receptors (skin, muscles, joints) that connect with the brain through the nervous system so that even without sight, you know what your body is doing.
Here’s a simple demonstration. Close your eyes, then try to touch the tip of your finger to the tip of your nose. No problem, right? That same kinesthetic awareness helps you in trail running.
Focus Forward, Not Downward
Both Evans and Vindum suggest keeping your focus 10 to 15 feet ahead of you. “Don’t look down (at your feet) because…your head’s 8 to 10 pounds and that’s going to mess up your center of gravity,” Evans said. Vindum added, “You can’t run a trail with your neck craned down looking at your feet, you’re going to hurt yourself.
“Your brain records upcoming terrain,” Vindum continued. “It’s like driving down the freeway, you’re not staring at your hood ornament. Look up and see what’s coming.”
Running Downhill and Uphill
When running downhill, the natural tendency is to lean back and use your heels as brakes.. Evans and Vindum both warn against this, as your feet can easily slide from underneath you. They both suggest leaning forward when running downhill. “What I say is I want your nose over your knees, and your knees over your toes,” said Vindum. Keeping your hands in your peripheral helps you keep balance and also helps you slow down, said Evans.
When running uphill, you want to take “short steps, and keep your cadence up high,” said Evans. If it’s a very steep hill, though, it may be better to walk. “Step out, put your hands on your knees and give yourself a little boost. It really helps”.
Happily, these tips have given me a bit more confidence in trail running. I’m looking forward to exploring my “backyard” this summer.
What trails do you like to run? What tips can you share for running trails? Please share your comments.