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.