Your Fastest 5K Trail Run!
Because road and trail running are very different, there are a few things to consider when gearing up for your fastest 5K trail run, explains ASICS Frontrunner Jani du Toit.
A year or so back I planned to improve my 5K trail PB at local trail close to home, on a relatively flat route. I considered myself to be quite fit at the time as I did a 5km trail run in about 30 minutes. I decided to use the event to try and beat my best time and was surprised when I did not run faster in that 30 minutes – I ran longer by about 6 minutes!
I was very disappointed but I realise now that it was silly to think that I could run my fastest 5km trail run whilst being so inexperienced. Since then, with training and patience, I am happy to say that after many improvements and lots of exercise, I recently ran my fastest 5km trail run without even noticing.
Here are a few tips to building yourself up to run your fastest 5km on trail.
- Run on trail: With living in the city it can be hard to get the opportunity mid-week to run on trail. So I try to take advantage on the weekends to hit the trail. It is essential that you practice your trail runnning skills. When running on trail, your time will almost always be slower than on road. You need to get the feeling of how your feet fall and react to loose rocks, and although rolling an ankle is normal, you can train your feet to react correctly.
- Do hill work: When you do lots of hill exercises your body will get stronger and before you know it you’ll be able to run up a hill that you previously had to walk. You don’t have to only do long up hills, keep to short fast up hills, and repeat them for a few sets. This will help you build strength to tackle the trails stronger.
- Mix it up with strength training: You need to strengthen your muscles so your runs can be more powerful and efficient. Add different variations of squats, lunges, calf raises, step ups, sit ups and some planking. You will find that once your body becomes stronger you will be able to go further, and faster for longer.
- Time yourself: In order to know if you’re making any sort of improvement you need to track yourself in some way or another. You can either run the same route once a week and make area markers in your head and know that you usually take a certain amount of time to run to the markers try to reach those markers faster on every run. You can also get a running buddy to run with you once or twice a week, it is easier to push yourself when you have someone to compete with. If you want to run faster you need to run with people that are going to push your limits.
- Feed yourself: Previous years I was focussing on losing weight. I just ended up being hungry and I had no energy to run. I felt demotivated and tired so I increased my portions slightly and allowed myself to eat carbs again – this really boosted my performance.
Your nutrition is one of the most important things for you performance, it’s the fuel that your body runs on. If you put in half the effort towards you nutrition then that’s what you’re gonna get out on the run.
- Find the right shoes: Trial running shoes usually have more stability blocks in to protect your feet and ensure that your feet are more supported when running.
There are many other gear items you can get for trail running but most of them only become necessary with endurance and distance. When running a 5K you will rarely need them. I do suggest always running with a water bottle to help with hydration on trails.
- Recce your runs: This is something I learnt from SA ultra-distance runner, Ryan Sandes. The word ‘recce’ means to familiarise yourself with an area. Before big trail events, I suggest getting to know the area. Get a map, check the elevation and if possible go and run the route. Get a feel for the terrain and in that way you can plan when to start giving it your all and when to keep some energy in reserves.
- Get your race pace: This one is tricky as you have to do a few races to see what works for you but because 5km is a short enough distance, there are many strategies around running your fastest 5km. Try to start strong – not fast just strong. If you start to fast you will tire faster and you risk the chance of spoiling your race completely. I’ve done this and I completely exhausted myself!
- Don’t micro-manage the terrain: Another trick I learnt from Ryan Sandes is not to micro-manage the rocks and the terrain when you run, your brain has already looked at the ground. While it is important to concentrate, look ahead about one to three meters and just go for it. If you micro-manage the immediate terrain in front of you, you run the chance of getting caught up and not spotting a hole or tree ahead!
- Make the decision: Make the decision before you start you race. Make your decision that you want to achieve your goal and then stick to it, otherwise it would have all been for nothing. When I’ve decided on the pace I want to run and the time I want to achieve I track my pace, and ensure that I bloody-well stick to it, otherwise what’s the point?
One thing to always to remember with trail running it to look up every now and then to appreciate your environment. Keep running and training, if you put in the time and the effort, your fastest 5km on trail will follow!