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How running in trails will make you a better marathon runner

Cristina Moret FEB 2022

If you are new to the running trails world, don’t let the idea of trail running scare you. Trail running is a great way to build strength, improve form, and gain mental focus for your marathon, but there are some important guidelines to follow so that your off-road time does not derail your marathon goals.

Benefits of running in trails

True, trail running might very well help you improve your road running. 

  1. Muscles that are not used for running on the road are strengthened.

  2. It reduces the likelihood of overuse injuries while allowing you to record more training miles.

  3. Running outside relieves stress. A less stressed-out body and mind can concentrate on working out harder.

  4. It promotes overall equilibrium.

  5. Not only that, but it helps to strengthen your core, which is necessary for proper running posture.

"Sometimes I've been wrong on the way, but I've learned that it's no use complaining: I'll have to accept the mistake and make up for that lost time in the race."

Trail marathon training

Trail marathon training plans are similar to road marathon training plans in that you should perform long runs on trails. However, those long runs will substitute for the long runs on roads that you would typically do for a road marathon. You should try and hit the trails as much as you can, but at least once a week.

To simulate the course that you’re going to race on, you should run a challenging workout plan with plenty of time in between workouts. This way your body has time to adapt and can perform the running skills necessary for a trail marathon. 

Running in trails is not only about the pace

Don’t get hung up on your pace. Every mile that you run is created differently due to terrain, elevation profile, and even weather conditions. Pace is not as important as the overall effort that you put in. 

How long is a mile in a trail run?

To get a sense of how long one mile might take you, it’s important to consider what’s happening on the trail. To do that, take your top pace and subtract from it whatever you think is a realistic uphill grade. For example, if what you usually run with ease is 6:20/mile, but when you train on an incline trail 9:30/mile seems like an option (this makes the total elevation gain 1,200 feet), then subtract 1:50 from 6:20. This gives 7:40 per mile in the trail run -- still above your usual threshold, but acceptably gradual.

Runner jumping in the desert

Running in trails is about your core strength.

Cross-training is an awesome way to stay healthy and fit—and it’s essential for any trail runner. By incorporating activities like swimming, biking, hiking, skiing and paddleboarding into your routine, you can burn calories quickly and strengthen important muscles that support your running gait.

Strides are fast, with lots of knee and ankle changes. They also require you to stabilize your body and get it ready for quick changes in direction.

Trail running calls for shorter, choppier steps that keep you light on your feet. Work on your foot and ankle strength and work on your lateral stabilizing muscles to become more in tune with the trail.
Working on these small stabilizing muscles helps to prevent injury, especially if you happen to be one of the minority of runners who run poorly downhill and downhill sprints.

You heard it here first: A strong core is going to help keep you upright when you hit bumps on the trail. Your body takes a different kind of impact on a trail than on a flat road, because you’re working so many more muscles that connect at different points of your body. And what better way to strengthen them than with a trail run? 

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Running vacations destinations

These are the running trips Cristina and Pablo organize since 2011.

Costa Rica - Pacific Jungle

6 days running expedition by the Jungle.

Video Costa Rica

Spain - Costa Brava

7 days running vacation by the the Costa Brava.

Morocco - Atlas to Sahara

6 days crossing the Atlas Mountains towards the Sahara desert.

Pyrenees - France to Spain

Running adventure crossing from France towards the Mediterranean sea.

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