Technique

  • Running Through Mud
  • Descending Technique
  • How to use Running Poles

Running Through Mud

We’ve all been there, crashing along a trail and then rounding a bend, find a massive puddle in front of you. What do you do? Do you, like most people try to get on the edge of the footpath to avoid the muddy foot bath?! Or do you plough on through into the unknown depths? Here are a few tips on how to avoid getting mud on your face this Autumn.

What colour is it?
The colour and consistency of the soil and mud will tell us a lot about how slippery it could be when wet and also how likely puddles are going to be. Without getting your portable chemistry set out, let’s do a quick check of the most common encounters… 

  • White: If it’s white then we’re talking chalk, in my experience the worst soil type to be on if it’s wet. I have seen many a brave man or woman think they can outwit this slippery customer. As soon as the rain hits you’re looking at something with the consistency of wet soap. Not worth doing any sudden movements or turns, ideally you want to find the grass and avoid the white stuff like the plague, otherwise you will fall and it will hurt. Note, puddles in chalk often form in quite deep ruts as the water cannot escape.
  • Orange: Next worse one - clay. Same as above for chalk. You’ll also be pleased with how quickly your treads fill up with both these sorts of mud, rendering them completely useless. Mud on mud. So a top tip is to take a moment and either wash it off or wipe it off on the grass, getting some grip back. 
  • Yellow: If it’s yellow… then it’s probably quite sandy, the consistency of the track might be made of gravel as well and for either this shouldn’t be a problem in wet ground, charge on through. 
  • Black: Most likely peat. Doesn’t normally stick to your shoe like the white and orange mud but it will be a sign of very wet areas. This could be a long day out, best just stick to the path. 
  • Brown: Just your usual mud, get stuck in bearing in mind the other techniques talked about below.
  • Green: Grass. Grass is always the better option than chalk or clay but not always vs. other terrain. Most accidents occur when people are descending wet grass, unfortunately there are no "grass training courses" but the best technique is to keep your centre of mass low and knees bent.  
  • Purple: Not all grass is made equal. If you’ve ever run in the hills in the UK, such as Snowdonia, the Lakes or Scotland then you may have spotted areas of purple grass, commonly known as ‘purple moor grass’. Despite it's purple appeal it’s best avoided as it likes swampy ground. A good tip to avoid a dip.

Get a grip
Having sufficient tread on your trail shoe (if you can keep it from getting clogged up) as well as the right grip type for the terrain is going to make a big difference. From massive lugs, to old school spikes and everything inbetween, trail shoes have many different treads, they are also made of different softness of rubber, grip patterns and depth of grip. Know which ones have the best grip for your terrain.

Be brave
Most of the time its best to just plough straight on through, keeping your stride and gait unchanged. That way you won’t risk a slip on the edge of the path which could see you not only land puddle bound but worse with a twisted an ankle.

Hidden depths
Some puddles are worse than others, watch out for those ones at the side of roads which could see you knee deep or have an uneven bottom. Be aware of narrow tracks which mountain bikers and horses use which can deep uneven ruts.

Bog off
Just avoid bogs, areas of the Peak District are notorious. You can spend days getting out of those. If you do get stuck in them, spread your weight out as much as possible.

Tread lightly
Be like Jesus and try to walk on water. Well what I mean is don’t put too much faith in each footing, moving quickly to the next foot will reduce the time you’re sinking into the mud. You can also reduce the weight on one foot by doing a mini step, hopping quickly to the next foot, just remember you’ll land more heavily on the next step.

Keep warm
Leggings or better still a good coating of freshly dried mud will keep your legs warm so you can tackle all the mud and puddles on route with warm and reactive muscles.

Use your poles
As George Orwell once wrote... "4 legs are better than 2". Use the poles to dance along the path, jump the puddles with added security. Possibly even stop and use them as a depth gauge. Keep your hands out of the straps if you are at risk of falling, broken wrists are worse than muddy legs.

Which way is north?
Not that old chestnut again! Yes I like knowing where I am. It’s also true that paths that run east-west have more puddles on the southern aspect. Yes I am a nerd.

Goretex trail shoes?
Tricky one, depends on whether you are going to be consistently running through puddles, if so, don't bother with waterproof shoes as they are more likely to become waterlogged as the water struggles to get out.

Pick your moment
I remember hurtling along a particularly muddy, puddly stretch using the “Be brave” motto as above, when as I came to a corner in the trail, I spotted a family. Clearly out for a nice morning stroll in their wellies. Kindly, they all stepped back off the path allowing me to pass, I didn’t even need to slow down. Feeling in my element with mud splashed up the sides of my legs, the true symbol of a gnarly wild trail runner I approached the corner with speed. In reply to their kind gesture I managed to just about get out the “good” part of “good morning” as my legs went from under me and I hit the deck. Turning in mud, and at speed is unwise, it’s also embarrassing when people watch. Make sure the coast is clear before you clown around, unless of course you’re taking part in tough mudder… 

Descending Technique for Trails

One of the most appealing things to me about trail running is the variety of techniques required to cope with courses that weave their way up, down and round the hills. The Alpine trails that we offer at Run the Wild encompass all these elements, but it’s the descents that people often find the most challenging. This can be a particular issue for those who lack consistent access to hilly and varied terrain, which helps strengthen muscles and joints and ultimately increase speed and confidence over a variety of ground. Yet given the right approach to training and preparation, location need not be a barrier to developing your inner Chamois. Of all the aspects of trail running, time spent on developing your descending technique can bring the biggest gains to not only your ability but also your enjoyment out on the trail. It’s one of the great thrills of trail running to have the world passing by in a blur as you focus intently on the narrow tunnel of vision ahead of you with legs in full flow. However, great rewards also come with increased risks so it’s important to emphasise taking a cautious and patient approach. The elite runners make it look deceptively easy, but they’ve also had to train themselves up to this level of ability.

FOCUS, LOOK AFTER YOURSELF AND GO FOR IT!

Before we launch into the details, it’s important to begin with a few things in mind.

CONCENTRATE: When descending, the most important thing is getting through it uninjured. Speed, position, what you’re having for dinner etc. are rendered meaningless if you blow it at high speed through your mind wandering. Remain present and concentrate entirely on what you are doing and the ground ahead. It only takes a momentary lapse of concentration to invite disaster, particularly late in the day or race.

KEEP CONTROL:  Choose trails that you know, or at least have walked or run round, to identify any hazards to be aware of. If there’s a cliff edge right next to a tight turn on the trail and you’re not in total control, then you’re asking for serious trouble. It’s better to be late in this world than early in the next: slow down, get past the hazard and then pick it up again. On a less serious but equally important note, particularly in the Autumnal season with leaves on the ground, exercise greater caution when it’s wet and slippery underfoot. 

BE CONFIDENT: Your mind greatly influences how your body performs. So if you’re anxious or hesitant about running downhill, then chances are you’re going to tense up and lose the dynamism required to flow with the terrain. It’s obviously not as simple as immediately flicking a mental switch, but by choosing trails you know well and following the tips below, your confidence can grow as you gain more trust in what your body can do. 

Practice, Practice, PRACTICE

Take time in your training to seek out progressively challenging hills and trails that you can use to build strength in your joints, ligaments and muscles, thereby giving you positive mental feedback to draw on. It’s helpful to focus on these key elements: 

i. maintaining good form

ii. improving your feet-eye coordination and route choice

iii. developing your ‘gears’

​To begin with opt for short, gradual hills that have a clear run out to enable you to focus on maintaining good form. Keep a slight forward lean from the ankles (rather than bowing forward at the waist), which will help your feet land under the body, and let your legs stretch out behind you. Do several repeats that should feel more exhilarating than exhausting. If you’re new to this, then starting conservatively on hills that take only a minute or so is good. You can then build up to longer hills as your body and confidence adjusts. Alongside these hillier sessions, you can also start venturing onto more technical trails to hone your feet-to-eye coordination (and strengthen your lateral ankle ligaments). These can either be on shallow gradient or even flat trails, since your primary goal should be to pick a good, fluid route to keep you moving efficiently. Adopt an active stance with bent knees. Keep your footsteps quick, short and light so you can switch direction quickly if hazards such as smooth wet rock slabs or slick tree routes need avoiding. Scan a few metres in front of you, picking out a path of least resistance to keep you moving freely and without massive strides or drop offs. If you tend to focus only on the next step then you’ll stall and slow down. You may need to walk sections if it gets too intricate, but hopefully within a few sessions you’ll feel able to run more.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

So as your hill sessions and your coordination improves, you will hopefully feel more confident to seek out steeper and more technical trails. Your form will have to adjust as the terrain steepens, requiring more control through leaning back and adopting a heel strike and a small stride. Your arms should also come more into play on technical trails to maintain balance and keep you upright. Keep them as wide and exaggerated as you like: it can often feel more like a dance than running! If you venture onto loose scree or mud it’s often a case of whatever it takes to ride the terrain and stay upright. Any skiing, snowboarding or skateboarding ability can serve you well in these situations. Finally, you should be able to seek out routes that encompass a variety of terrain that encompass all of these elements. This is where your gears come into play, since your technique will have to be adapted for each section, making for a continually interesting run that makes time and distance pass unnoticed. Just remember to have your watch with you if you have to be back at work.

WHAT GOES UP

Since your routes will feature both ups and downs, it’s important to be aware of transitioning from one to the other. When you crest the hill after a long, demanding ascent your muscles will need some time to adjust, so ease into the early part of the descent and gradually increase your speed. The biggest danger is catching a toe on a rock or root and tripping over (since you’re prone to forgetting to pick your feet up on tired legs after ascending), or landing awkwardly and twisting an ankle. 

SMART TRAINING

To compliment your time on the trail, regular core work, squats, lunges and one foot balancing exercises using a wobble board or cushion can be effective. They don’t take long to implement in your training, and are a vital part of pre-hab and staying injury free. Ankle flexibility is particularly useful to work on since the trails are uneven and the ground underfoot can often take you by surprise. Heavy descending sessions can take a huge toll on the body, so it’s important to be sparing with them. Do no more than one of these every couple of weeks or longer, and remember that like any smart training, it’s a fine balance between consistency and intensity. Have fun and save the all out efforts for race day!

Written by Alistair Bignell, Run the Wild Guide

How to use running poles on steep terrain

As soon as you get into trail running, you’ll notice there is a now a bewildering range of colourful, technical and exciting kit to buy. Running poles are just one of these products, but it may not be clear if you actually need them. Here, Emily, local qualified guide and experienced trail runner based in the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc valley, dispels the myths and looks at the techniques employed whilst running with poles.

WHY USE RUNNING POLES?
Overall, you are going to need running poles if you are running up and down long steep hills, plus poles will increase your stability on rocky terrain - therefore, it makes sense that poles are very popular in the Alps!

STABILITY: Poles will also help immensely with any technical downhill, stream crossings or jumping down big drops by aiding balance and protecting your knees. The rougher the terrain, the more useful poles will be.

PROPULSION UPHILL: Although many people first think of poles being useful when running downhill, they are probably of most benefit on the uphill. Here, they can save you energy by distributing the workload across the body, which provides some exercise for the arms and takes strain off your legs. Holding poles may also encourage you to keep a more upright position, which is better for your posture and optimises breathing.

HOW TO USE RUNNING POLES
This may not be as straightforward as it seems! Here are a few tips:

- Although some people might use one pole when hiking, you definitely need two in order to be in balance whilst running.

- Nowadays poles are usually left and right handed, which makes them fit the shape of your hand more comfortably.

- Straps are really useful, especially on the long steep uphills where you end up walking for a long time. During this ‘power-hiking’ phase of trail running, you can save energy by just resting your hands in the straps. By not gripping the pole with your hands, your arms will be more relaxed and you won’t get so tired. Have a look at this picture to check the right way to hold put your hand through the loop. Make sure you put it in the loop from underneath and from the top as shown in the picture (right).

- Take your hands out for technical downhills in case you trip over. This will reduce the likelihood of injury - to your hands in particular - as you can just drop the pole rather than getting stuck in it if you fall.

- If you have poles that vary in size, it may be worth changing the length if you are going up or downhill for a long time: You might find it easier to have them about 10 cm shorter when going uphill.

- If you’re running with others, leave at least a couple of metres between you and the person in front to avoid being stabbed! This can be an issue in races when there is a big field of competitors battling it out along a narrow single-track path. If the person in front somehow manages to hit you, it’s fair to say it’s your fault for being too close, rather than their fault for not getting far enough ahead of you!

- Flat sections: If you have fold-able poles, it’s worth attaching them to your pack for long flat sections. Otherwise, it’s best to grip the middle of the pole and run along holding them horizontally, one in each hand. Once you find the balance point along the pole, so the same weight is in front of and behind your hand, they won’t seem to weigh very much.

WHAT PROBLEMS MIGHT YOU ENCOUNTER?
Tripping over the poles: This could happen when the terrain is particularly rough or, even more likely, when you’re tired! There isn't much you can do to stop this apart from staying focused and paying attention. Also, take your hands out of the wrist loops over sections where you’re likely to trip in order to limit the potential damage.

Blisters on hands: This is likely to happen if you suddenly start using the poles regularly or if you do a long run with them. Therefore, building up gradually will give your skin time to toughen up. If you don’t have this option, it would be a good idea to wear thin fingerless gloves to protect your hands.

Eating and drinking on the go: I manage to hold both poles within one hand and still be able to use those fingers to help the other hand open packets etc. Like everything, it gets easier with practice!

WHICH RUNNING POLES?
Overall, lightweight is best, but generally they are a lot more expensive. The lightest are made of carbon, aluminium is a little bit heavier but is also stronger. I use Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles which are only 290g for the pair at 120 cm long. Like mine, most running poles are fold-able, as you often want to pack them into your back-pack for travel or for long flattish stretches of running. In terms of length, some poles can be adjusted, but these will be heavier. When you’re holding the right length pole, your forearm and upper arm should be at right-angles - ie. the line from your hand to elbow should be horizontal. If you ski, it will be the same as your ski poles.

Overall, it’s best to just try any poles to get used to the idea first of all.  Over time you’ll become fully accustomed to them - and might wonder how you coped without them before!

Written by Emily Geldard, Run the Wild Guide