Super Trail are blessed to have input from some of Australias best runners, coaches, exercise consultants, nutritionists and sporting equipment.
Sharing this wealth of knowledge with the run community to to improve form, practise new techniques, better understand running, and reach that next goal.
COACH ROB: HILLS
Trail running races nearly always mean hills. The equivalent elevation in a hilly road race would probably be considered a flattish trail run. I don’t think engineers could get the tarmac to stick on the hills that trail runners consider steep. So if you’ve entered a trail run, you’d better be prepared for hills, both climbing and descending.
Types of foot striking are forefoot, midfoot and heel strikers. Imagine trying to heel strike while running up a steep hill, you would fall over backwards. This means you will be running forefoot up hills and your heels will be dropping lower than they would on the flat. Causing extra strain on your Achilles and calf muscles, two of the most common running injuries. Gradually building hill running into your training will strengthen your legs and make them more injury-resistant.
On a steep hill, a cyclist will change into a low gear and spin up the climb. As runners, we need to do the same thing by shortening our stride. You should be looking to maintain the same cadence (or faster) as you were on the flat. It is also a big advantage to run tall with your hips forward rather than bending at the waist. This takes practice but will make the hill feel less steep.
Some hills are so steep and/or long that you cannot run up them. Often walking up the steep sections will be just as fast as running, but with less energy expenditure. The cross-over point between running and walking will vary among different people, so something you need to work out for yourself during training. I use my heart rate to determine when I revert to walking and don’t start running again until my heart rate drops to a certain level. Another thing you can experiment with during training and obviously heart rate limits will be race dependent (higher for short races, lower for longer races).
The ideal pace for climbing up a hill is the effort that allows you to return to your ‘flat’ race pace once you get to the top. Very common to see people race up a hill only to stop for recovery at the top. In your mind, don’t think about climbing UP the hill, instead think about climbing OVER the hill. And if you’ve been smart and done lots of hills in your training, have the self-belief that everybody else is struggling worse than you. Hills should become your friend, look forward to the hills, this is where you can get an advantage over others.
What goes up, usually comes back down. So we now need to talk about descending. This is where the ‘trail’ runner can get a big advantage over the ‘road’ runner. And as a ‘trail’ runner, I am assuming you own a pair of trail running shoes.
Earlier we discussed forefoot running when climbing. Descending will be heel striking (to prevent falling flat on our faces). Most trail running shoes will have reverse tread on the heel for this reason. Learning to use and feel the grip in this heel tread will add confidence to your descending. A lack of confidence results in heavy strides with lots of braking force that sends shocks up through your legs. Your quadriceps (large front thigh muscles) usually take the brunt of this braking force. They are big strong muscles, but there’s a limit to how much abuse they can absorb.
The confident descender is lighter on their feet. Less braking force, less abuse to the quads and a lighter foot stride means less chance of slipping, rolling an ankle or falling over. They will also be faster. This is a skill that is gained through practice. So include descending in your hill training, it’s actually more fun than climbing. But like everything else, ease into it by starting with gentle, non-technical descents. Once you learn how to feel the grip in your shoes, then you can progress to more technical descents.
Keep up the training, work on the hills and soon people will be calling you a mountain goat (that’s a compliment).
RUNNING ON TRAIL
Running on trails is better than the pavement in so many ways. Trails are usually far more interesting and scenic, less polluted, less noisy and a better experience overall. Softer surfaces are also far more forgiving on your body. Think about how many steps you take during a run, each step on the trails is less damaging than one on concrete or bitumen. For hard surfaces, you can wear highly cushioned shoes to reduce the damage, but you lose the feel of the ground which can be important when trying to improve your running technique.
Pavements are usually flat and even. When your brain starts to trust the surface, your technique can get lazy and you become more heavy-footed (opposite of being light on your feet). With no lateral movement, due to the evenness of the pavement, you are mostly activating the central section of your leg muscles. All the stabilising tendons do not get many activations and therefore don’t gain strength.
Trails are usually uneven and undulating, continually activating (and strengthening) those stabilising tendons (like how free weights give you a better workout than the weight machine). Your brain learns to not trust the surface and you become lighter on your feet. This means it is easier to recover from a slip or slide because you haven’t committed as much weight to each stride. And the stronger stabilising tendons can better handle unexpected lateral movements.
I think the best way to prevent injuries such as rolled ankles is to do more trail running, become lighter on your feet and gain more stabilising strength. If you are new to the trails, start easy. Begin with non-technical trails and slowly increase your distance and let the strength build in your legs before progressing to more technical sections.
Depending on how technical the trail is, you will typically be slower than on pavement. So I measure my trail runs by time rather than distance and measure speed by perceived effort (breathing patterns) or heart rate and ignore whatever pace my watch might say. Developing your perceived effort by breathing patterns can be very handy during a race.
As a guide to determining effort by breathing pattern, comfortably breathing once every three strides will mean you are running at an aerobic level. Breathing once every two strides will be a threshold effort, once you start puffing or breathing more frequently, you will only be able to sustain that pace for less than an hour. Learning to monitor your breathing can help you maintain a sustainable race pace.
COACH ROB: BIO
When Rob McNamara isn’t doing his day job, he is an athlete and coach. Based in Ballarat, Victoria, Rob runs Bespoke Triathlon Coaching, where he specialises in coaching triathletes and runners.
Qualified as a Level 2 (Performance) Triathlon Coach Rob helps athletes create and fulfil their potential with personalised training programs for all distances and abilities.
Taking up triathlon in 2003, Rob was a quick learner at the combo, being a natural runner, and super strong on the bike and adding the swim made tri the sport to give him the edge he needed to stand on many podiums. Having competed in several hundred multi-sport events since then.
Wearing the green and gold not only is a huge honour but means you get to see loads of amazing places while competing for your country, and hasn’t Rob seen a few? Gold Coast, Lausanne Switzerland, and Nice France just to name a few. Rob has represented Australia in four ITU Age Group Worlds (standard distance) and two 70.3 Age Group Worlds.
Became a Level 1 (Development) Triathlon Coach in 2008 and Level 2 (Performance) Triathlon Coach in 2019 and has coached over 40 different athletes from beginners racing their first Sprint Distance to Ironman. All of them arrived at the start line without injury and most achieved new personal bests, including a Noosa Age Group Win, five Age Group State Championships and two Age Group World Championship podiums.
Follow Rob on his socials to get updates on training, and reviews and maybe be inspired by some of his athlete’s journeys. Reach out to Rob if you think you might like to start creating an event goal with one of his personalised training programs.
MEET KRISTI McGRAIL
Kristi is one of the legends doing our inaugural L.O.S.E.R. event – she’s taking on the 100km, that’s 16 laps, 16 hours.
We asked Kristi a few questions about how she got here, and to share a few wise words – enjoy being inspired:
Born and raised on the Gold Coast, I first got into trail running about 6 months ago with a good friend of mine, and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve done quite a few different endurance runs, my first marathon was last year in December. I then went on to do the Goggins 4x4x48 challenge running 6.5k every 4 hours for 48 hours. Then I went to Cairns and did the 50k, and then Gold Coast Marathon where I completed the double, which was 63.3k
The things I like to do to keep fit include boxing, running, Strength and conditioning, swimming and beach walking. The reason I love the trails is I find them therapeutic and rejuvenating, I love getting myself into nature as it helps me reset myself. I find it easier to run on trails as there is more to look at and distract myself from the pain I’m enduring.
I train twice a day 5/6 times a week. I go to the gym at 4 am every day, go straight to work for 8 hours then go for a run after. I do intervals and 1-2 long runs a week depending on what race I have coming up.
A close friend of mine Trav is an amazing running coach and is helping me train for this event. He currently has me running 4 times a week, 2 short runs and 2 long runs.
I have been burnt out before on a long run and it is not fun! It’s all about trial and error and what works for your body. What I have learnt throughout running is not to let myself get dehydrated and to have good quality gels.
My normal go-to for nutrition is Spring Energy gels but because this is a longer run, I will be eating proper food on my breaks to keep me going.
I’d say the worst thing that’s happened to me in a long run is letting myself get dehydrated by just drinking water, and taking gels that weren’t right for my body. I felt sick the whole way and all I was thinking about is that I wanted to vomit. My body didn’t recover well the next day I was sore for days on end.
Pros: I would tell them how much fun it would be, it’s only 6.7k every hour and you get a little rest in between till the next hour. Cons: I probably wouldn’t mention that you start at 5 pm and go till the am. I would let them figure it out once they have bought the ticket. 😂
I have the most amazing family who will be coming to support, all the way from the Gold Coast.
My strategy will be to pace myself and not get too excited the first few laps. I only want enough time to have something little to eat and drink and go again. I don’t want to get too comfortable and cold from resting for too long.
Thank you for listening to my story, my goal is to inspire others and show them you are capable of more than you think. Just keep showing up for yourself 1 foot in front of the other.
NIKKI WYND: BIO
Nikki has raced at the highest level both locally and internationally over the last 10 years with outstanding race wins and remarkably consistent results in track, trail and road events.
Nikki has represented Australia 8 times, in both the 24-hour and 100kms teams and only last week took the gold medal with the Women’s Australia team competing at the 24-hour Asian/Oceania Championship.
Nikki currently holds the Australian 48-hour records for both the 40+ and 45+ age groups and overall record, running a whopping 343.044kms
Nikki is the first Australian female to win the prestigious ‘Badwater 135’ (217km) Ultra Marathon through Death Valley (regarded as one of the top 10 toughest ultra-marathon races in the world taking runners from the lowest point in continental America to the Mt Whitney Portal at 8371ft) finishing 4th outright. Nikki’s time of 27 Hr 23 Mins is over 40 yrs age record and the third fastest female time ever.
When not running Nikki works full-time as the Practice Manager of a busy privately owned Allied Health Clinic in Scoresby and Rowville in Victoria. Her other big achievement is her 18-year-old son Dan whom she loves supporting while he peruses an AFL career. In her downtime, she loves walking her mini sausage dog Barney and spending time with her family and friends.
http://www.therunningman.com.au/nwprofile.html (race results)
NIKKI WYND: ARTICLE
How at our age women can accomplish these crazy distances and keep healthy?
I feel that as we get older, we can keep accomplishing crazy distances and keep healthy, however, we need to train differently, be a bit kinder to ourselves, take more rest days and listen to our bodies. As I have got older I have incorporated more strength work, pilates and cross training into my weekly running schedule. If I am sore, I may miss and run and get on the spin bike. I don’t back up as I used to and I need to respect that. I also do fewer km per week but am now focusing on more quality speed sessions, so more bang for your buck.
Do you have a recovery regime?
Would you recommend ladies try some of these longer distances?
RUN COACH – STEVE BRENNAN
Trail running Let’s discuss!
Running is running, gives us our kicks, and keeps us fit, mentally and physically. Now trail running, this I describe as a different beast, less about the watch and time, more about running with friends you may know or friends you are making as you run.
First time I ran such an event over 20 years ago I thought this is like a rave, early morning mist, out in the wilds, music pumping, fellow oddballs all with the same goal.
Bang off went the start, funnelled along a farmer’s field, dip down a hill and straight through a waist-deep creek, all in it together, competitive but caring for your fellow runners.
Great day out and I was hooked!
So what did I learn from that first race, I need to train on the terrain more, forget about the watch, not look too far ahead of my next footstep, and wear run shoes that can cope with the terrain and I’ve run in before.
How to train, well train off-road as much as you can fit into your life, build your base mileage steadily, initially if 3 times a week is what you can do, then try to load the legs up every couple of weeks by 5% or increase the number of hills you run.
Trail running is all about community, it’s more like a team sport, enjoy runs with friends in different places.
More tips to follow in future weeks leading up to Super Trail weekend!
Introducing Trail Run Coach and all-round legend Steve Brennan. Based in Victoria, Steve helps runners correct their form, conquer fears, and grab those PBs. Check out Weapon Run Coaching for more info.