6 Tips to Transition from Road Running to a 10K Trail Run

Create a PlanEvery run­ner has to over­come phys­i­cal and men­tal obsta­cles. Some­times the way to do that is to set up mile­stones — whether it be men­tal ones or train­ing toward a goal.

If you’ve suc­cess­fully built up your base mileage for a longer dis­tance race and want to shake things up, sign­ing up for a local 10K trail race can yield a fun chal­lenge. On top of that, the roads already get enough love — don’t you think it’s about time you gave the trail some attention? Here are six help­ful tips as you pre­pare for your first 10K trail run.

1.  For­get About Time
A 10K isn’t a long dis­tance for a run­ning race, but many peo­ple sign up for a trail race with the expec­ta­tion of a per­sonal record while rac­ing. For­get about it. It’s going to take some time to adjust to run­ning on trails, so all focus should be on com­plet­ing the race to the best of your abil­ity – and throw away your race score.

As you tran­si­tion from the road onto the trail, go back to the basics and run your first prac­tice trail run based on dis­tance and heart rate. Worry about your speed as your com­fort level on the trails increases.

2.  Focus on Form
Trail run­ning is phys­i­cally reward­ing, but will take some time for your body to adjust and get used to run­ning on the trails.  Con­stantly scan what’s hap­pen­ing in front of you so you’re able to adjust your form and pre­pare for any phys­i­cal changes that must be made. Keep your head, neck and shoul­ders loose, with your hips and shoul­der aligned with one another. The best way is to learn by trial and error, so get out there and see what works best for you.

Many per­sonal train­ers rec­om­mend run­ners pay atten­tion to run­ning stride, as it’s eas­ier to add wear and tear while play­ing on the trails.    

3. Cre­ate a Plan
Every train­ing run has a pur­pose and it’s impor­tant to try and be as con­sis­tent as pos­si­ble. Peo­ple are busy and day-to-day life activ­i­ties can get in the way, but skip­ping sched­uled work­outs will make it even harder on race day. Be sure to try and study where you plan to run and ensure you stay on estab­lished trails, which helps you keep safe and bet­ter pro­tects nature.

4. Carry Food and Water
This is impor­tant for both train­ing and rac­ing trail runs – larger road runs will have aid sta­tions along the course, but it’s often times logis­ti­cally dif­fi­cult to put aid sta­tions on trail courses. Carry a hydra­tion belt or some type of blad­der inside a back­pack with clothes or sup­plies you might need to make sure you’re as best pre­pared as pos­si­ble. Know the amount of water, elec­trolytes and food you will need to con­sume, so you can pack appropriately. 

5. Pre­pare for the Down­hill!
Many trail train­ing runs and races will see run­ners climb single-track and descend some­times sketchy trails – and as much as you should have fun, always make sure your foot­ing is secure. Shorten your stride and take shorter steps. A sin­gle slip can poten­tially lead to a painful mis­take, and you don’t want to acci­den­tally tum­ble down a hill. Be sure to keep your body weight cen­tered over your knees, and be sure not to lean for­ward or back too much. Qui­eter foot­steps help pro­vide a gauge towards fatigue – you should be care­ful, as louder foot­steps some­times leads to sore knees, quadri­ceps, shins, and back.

6. Take Care After a Race/Workout
10K Trail RunFol­low­ing a tough work­out or race, it’s impor­tant to make sure a few key activ­i­ties aren’t ignored: cool down, food and flu­ids, and stretch­ing.  Some­times an ice bath is nec­es­sary after a trail 10K, espe­cially if your body still isn’t accli­mated to the more dif­fi­cult ter­rain of the trails. Rest and don’t rush back to run­ning if there is sore­ness a cou­ple of days fol­low­ing a hard trail run. 

Bonus Tip: Prac­tice makes per­fect! Even if it’s not pos­si­ble to get out and com­plete a prac­tice run on the trail race course, prac­tic­ing on trails – or uneven run­ning sur­faces – can help pro­vide an unfore­seen boost on race day.

Final Thoughts
Run­ners inter­ested in com­pet­ing in a 10K trail run should focus on get­ting through the race with­out wor­ry­ing too much about race time. It’s going to be dif­fi­cult to try and com­plete a 10K with imme­di­ate expec­ta­tions of a fast time. Give your­self a few trail races and more expe­ri­ence in the woods to help your future speed work.