Running Your Fastest 5km On Trail

Running Your Fastest 5km On Trail

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When running on trail there are a few things you need to take into consideration if you plan on running your fastest pace, or you’re fastest 5km.

A  year or 2 back I planned to do a local trail run close to home, on a relatively flat route – I was quite fit I thought and I could do a 5km in about 30min. I thought that I would use this upcoming trial run to try and beat my 30min on a 5km. Boy was I wrong. Not only did I not run faster that 30min, I ran longer by about 6min!!

I was very disappointed, but also still surprised about how different it felt to run my first 5km on trail. Knowing what I know now I realise it was silly to think that I could run my fastest 5km on trail whilst being so inexperienced.

So in my last race I’m happy to say after many improvements and lots of exercise I ran my fastest 5km on trail without even noticing. Below are a few tips to building yourself up to run your fastest 5km on trail.

How to Train for a Trail Run?

  • Run on trail: 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 skills on some sort of trail. When Running on trail you time will almost ALWYS be slower than on road, I promise you. You need to get the feeling of how your feet fall and react to loose rocks – you need to sort of train your Brain and your feet to react correctly, see what works and what doesn’t. Rolling an ankle is normal practice with trail running, it’s close to unavoidable. So run a trail, any trail, just get out there.
  • Do Hill work: With Trail you’re not running on something that is manmade, so there is a fat chance that where you run will be flat similar to road running. For me running uphill is terrible, I suffer, so I found that when you do lots of hill exercises your body will get stronger and before you know it you’ll be able to run 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. When you hit the trails over weekends then you can do a few longer up hills to help build your endurance.
  • Mix it up with Strength training: This is truly my weakness. I just find it easier to run than to strength train, but I know once I commit to it I will be a better runner for it. It is important to make you Bum, Tummy and Leg Muscles stronger. You need to strengthen the muscles so your runs will be more powerful and more efficient. Add different variations of squats, lunges, calf raises, step-ups, sit-ups and some plank. It’s horrible I know, but it’s like veggies, their good for you in the end! 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, see if you can push up your pace on every run. You can also get a running buddy to run with once or twice a week, it is easier to push yourself when you have something or someone to compete with. You’re only as good as your training group. It you want to run faster and harder 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 with. I went from nice and chubby to skinny, it hit me like a wall and after a while my body was pulling an Oliver Twist with a little bowl looking up and asking “Please sir – Can I have some more..?” I had to eat more, my runs were suffering, I felt demotivated, tired and well Hungry! So I just increased my portions a bit, and allowed myself to eat carbs again. They are good for you Ladies! You can’t live only on proteins and salads. When you find that you can’t eat as much get a shake or a meal replacement and have them on your training days. But don’t forgo your food in the place of supplements, that’s not healthy and it will be expensive.You 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.

The Best Gear for Trail Runs:

  • Feet, Foot, Shoe: You need the right shoes when running trail. Especially if you planning on going fast or even far. There is so many obstacles in the road when running trail. Remember that trial running shoes usually have more stability blocks in to protect your feet and ensure that your feet are more stable when running. Some even have metal plates and extra protection in to help protect your feet from rocks that might hit your soles.

There are many other gear items you can get from trail running but most of them come with endurance and distance. When you’re running a 5km you will rarely need them. I do suggest always running with a water bottle to help with hydration on trails.

Above is a picture of my ASICS running shoes: 

You can see the structural difference between the two shoes, both perfect for their trade but different for their function.

Train for a Trail Run Race:

  • Recce your runs: This is something I learnt from reading the book of Ryan Sandes. He is a South African Endurance-Ultra-Trail-Runner. The word Recce means to familiarise yourself with an area. Before big races and events that you plan to run your fastest or best pace I suggest getting to know you 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 – you have to do a few races to see what works for you.  But a 5km is such a short distance that I’ve heard of so many strategies around doing you fastest 5km. Try to start strong, not fast-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, haha, it was so bad! I’ve also heard the if you start slow you risk the chance of not being able to pick yourself up and go faster – you then also risk of running and overall slower pace. You have to test it and get your race pace. With both of these strategies the first point will give you an advantage, knowing the route with help you know when to go fast or stay conservative.
  • Don’t Micro-manage the terrain: Another trick I learnt from Mr.Sandes. Don’t micro-manage the rocks and the terrain when you run. Your brain has already looked at the ground. Look ahead about 1-3 Meters and go for it. Trust yourself to remember what you’ve previously seen. But concentrate, I fine the moment I stop concentrating I fall. If you Micro-manage the immediate terrain in front of you , you run the chance of getting caught up and not spotting a hole, a branch, a root or even a 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?

These are some of my tips but I’ve yet to learn much more, one rock, tree and face plant at a time! One thing to always to remember with Trail Running it to look up every now and then and to enjoy you environment, respect it and appreciate it. Especially if you run in South Africa, we have some of the most beautiful trail routes in the world. Keep running and training, if you put in the time and the effort you fastest 5km on trail will follow, the best part is you might just have a few adventures along the way!

Happy Running