I’m looking to improve my run consistency through the fall-winter and it’s well-known that running on single track can enable more miles with less infliction to the soft tissues. That’s important to a swimming-backgrounded wanna be durable runner like me. No brainer that I’m running more single track these days. Including yesterday, during which it occurred to me that beyond the physical resilience trail running offers, it’s also a great metaphor for adaptability in other domains.
How so? The rocks, roots, tight turns, steep inclines, tricky surfaces and everything else you might encounter on a trail run represent the obstacles we meet in other parts of life. Strategies to run effectively on single track can inform your strategies in dealing with hardships whether they be related family, health, work or otherwise.
A Stable Platform - I prefer to wear trail shoes and tend to land more flat footed running single track compared to my fore-foot striking, knee driving road running style that commands a more minimal, flexible shoe. The combination of these things provide me a more stable platform on which to safely handle footfall on rocks and roots hiding among fallen leaves and dappled sunlight. By creating a stable platform of connections to your true self, others and purpose, you enable yourself to more effectively handle the obstacles of life.
Look Where You’re Going – This is about goal clarity includes your short term tactics (the obstacles right in front of you) as well as your longer term strategy (what kind of terrain is coming up next). In trail running, it rarely pays to look off the trail to “enjoy the view” while still moving, unless you want that view to be an up close inspection of the ground. If my goal is to look around, I stop and look around. If my goal is to continue on the path, I keep my eyes on the path. Attempting to achieve both at the same time may lead to you achieving neither.
Go With the Flow – Finding the line that safely maintains the most momentum is a fun challenge throughout any trail run. I like to imagine that I am water that flows up as well as down hill. I don’t force the pace, because I know that by staying relaxed and practicing the skill consistently, I will improve over time. If I push the pace, then I get to practice falling on my face, which would be the opposite of momentum. Flow is achieved by pushing oneself just the tiniest bit past the comfort zone and momentum is achieved by not stopping. Flow and momentum can get you far in any endeavor.
Finish What You Start. In addition to a more flat footed footstrike, I also remain cognizant about keeping a quick heel lift so that my trailing foot doesn’t catch on the obstacle my lead foot just avoided. If we lose focus on a problem as soon as the obstacle is out of sight, we can still get tripped up. Don’t just be an implementer. Follow through and make sure your trailing foot doesn’t get snagged by the problem you think you just averted.
Come At It From Different Angles. Road running is all about efficient, repetitive movement, which can sometimes mean overuse injury. Trail running mixes things up by forcing me to take a different approach almost every yard I cover, so that I’m using a wider variety of muscles and end up more balanced. Dealing with issues outside of running can be similar. By getting hooked into one way of dealing with something, we might get so efficient that we suffer the consequences of solution overuse. Better to take a different angle on things to avoid that whole problem of everything looking like a nail if all we have is a hammer.
Danger in the Easy Parts. Anyone that’s done a little trail running knows about “trail luv”, which is a ephamism for those times that we land up close and personal with the trail. So close we might kiss the dirt. Unintentionally. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to become intimate with the trail surface in the least technical portions. What happens is that I become over confident with a seemingly fast and easy portion, push the pace a little, get careless and BAM. Like my trail experience, things aren’t always as simple as they appear on the surface. It’s easy to rush through the stuff that seems obvious and easy only to find out the hard way that we missed something that bites us in the butt.
So there you go. The tao of trail running.