Ah, summer. Ice cream trucks, pool parties, and for many of us in warmer climates, a severely painful blow to the ego when spring paces are a struggle.
This isn’t just perception — studies on the subject vary widely in terms of effort percentage versus degrees, but it is universally agreed that warmer=harder.
The hard part is getting a gauge on fitness throughout the summer if you have a fall race. For example, if you are looking to break two hours in the half-marathon, it can be disheartening if a few 9-minute miles feel impossible.
What a perfect time to mix in trail running!
It may sound a little crazy at first to train even slower, but your legs and mind will appreciate it. Your legs will benefit from utilizing a different bunch of muscles than road running.
The hills, roots, and rocks create natural obstacles that give everything from your hips to your toes a little extra training. Your mind will benefit from relaxing about paces and concentrating more on effort. Plus, the scenery is almost always better on the trails.
Though for most trails you don’t need anything different than you do for the road, I do recommend reviewing three things before you hit the dirt — shoes, hydration options, and protective gear.
- Shoes — Unless you are running on extremely rocky or rooty terrain, most road running shoes are adequate for trail running. Even still, if the soles have a reasonable amount of cushion to protect from sharp rocks and have a bit of grip, they will be substantial enough for the dirt.
- Hydration — Some trail systems have fresh drinking water available. Some don’t. Be prepared with a hydration system and don’t rely on drinking water from creek, rivers, lakes, etc. Giardiasis is a nasty infection caused by drinking contaminated water — trust me, if you have it, you’ll never be ill-prepared again.
- Protection — Depending on your area, you’ll want to consider protection against bugs and possibly wildlife. I usually wear a hat to ward off creatures on low-hanging branches. Tell a spouse/partner/friend where you will be. Carry your phone and a whistle if you really heading off the beaten path. Be aware of your surroundings.
Even if you are able to head out on the trails a couple of times a month, it is worth the fresh outlook. I like to set my timer on my watch rather than aim for mileage because that gives me a little more freedom to relax the pace.
When you hit the roads for your next workout, you’ll likely feel a little more refreshed and a little stronger.