Written by Dan Chabert
Triathlon can easily and quickly become a complicated sport, with all the gear and the requisite number of training hours you should post before competing, but at their core, the sports that comprise triathlon are fairly straightforward – especially running. Many triathletes begin as runners, and even more of them typically start their running careers exclusively on roads. In fact, I’d venture to say that many non-triathlete runners solely run roads and never explore trail running. Many runners claim that trails aren’t where my interests lie, that I can’t run fast on trails, or that I hate hills and thus want to avoid them at all costs. These exclusive runners or runners-turned-triathletes don’t know what they’re missing!
It sounds like something you’d find out of the 1960s, but running trails can give you moments of zen that you just don’t get – or as easily – when you’re running on the roads. We are so busy at times, and we sometimes struggle to “fit it all in” during our days – triathlon training notwithstanding – but running trails can simultaneously allow us to disconnect from the “busyness” of the world while also “reconnecting” with ourselves, our training goals, and whatever we feel our larger purpose is. This can be great not only for us as individuals but also for us as highly-motivated, goal-driven athletes.
Of course, hitting trails also gives your body a break from the incessant pounding that you get from running on the roads, and surely this reprieve from pavement will help your body repair itself as you’re in the throes of your tri training. It doesn’t matter how fast you go on trails – and yes, over time, just like with any other sport, practice on trails will help you get faster on them – you’ll find that the burning in your muscles and legs gives way to a recharge of your “mental” battery, great enthusiasm to chase after your goals, and most likely, a nice carry-over in speed from trails to roads when you’re running. Dare I say it, but I really think that running trails is just good for the soul sometimes.
It’s never too late to hit the trails. Of course, keep in consideration your tri training calendar and your specific workouts, but particularly if you have upcoming training slots that dictate some general aerobic or recovery runs, hitting the trails for a change could be the way to go for not only a change of scenery but also as a way to avoid physical or mental burnout. Here are some pointers for how to begin:
Consider your tri training calendar. Because we have the luxury of practicing three sports, most of us adhere to some type of training calendar in order to get a prescribed number of swimming yards, cycling volume, and running mileage at various stages in our training cycle(s). If you’re deciding to hit trails for the first time, consider your running workouts that week and figure out which workout would fit the best in a trails setting. I’d recommend, at least for starters, to keep simple recovery runs or general aerobic runs on trails because you might find that you need a little bit of time to get accustomed to running on trails than on roads.
Look for the green in your area. Before you decide to plunge headfirst into trail running, do a little research to see what’s around you. It may sound obvious, but when you’re looking at a map, look for big patches of green to find parklands; you might even be so lucky to find some near bodies of water in your environment. You may have lived in the same area for many years and never knew that there were some great trail systems near you, so definitely spend at least a little time with a map to explore your options.
Connect with some experts. If you’re doing some internet research on trails near you, you might even find some trail running groups that regularly run near you in the exact places where you’d like to run. Especially if you’re new to trail running, you might want to connect with these trail running groups so you can glean from these runners’ experiences and expertise. Plus, practically speaking, running with experienced trail runners – at least initially – will help you navigate the differences of trails versus roads running, but they will also help you avoid getting lost!
Post-triathlon, consider a trails race. If you’re incorporating trail running into your triathlon training, chances are high that you will not be very interested in targeting a trail race before your triathlon. However, afterward? Anything’s game! You’ll surely have developed some fitness and speed on trails, provided you regularly incorporated them into your tri running regime, so why not make the most of it and enter a race or two? Trails racing brings a totally different vibe on race day than does road racing (and tri racing, most likely), but it’s still equally as magical. Don’t think that you have to run a huge distance to race trails; the big races, from marathons all the way up to 100 milers definitely do exist on trails, but there are also plentiful options for smaller distances, too. An added bonus? Trail racing brings a whole new series of PRs, since you can now say that you have a road 5k PR of X and a trails 5k PR of Y.
Moving some of your running from roads to trails can be rejuvenating and liberating for your running, and it can also bring with it some injury prevention elements as well. Triathlon training gives us many opportunities to challenge ourselves and do things that we didn’t think we were capable of doing, and if you’ve been hesitant to incorporate trail running into your regular fitness routine, doing so during tri training might be a good decision for you, provided you do it with intention.
Written by Dan Chabert:
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.