In early August 2016 my job as a coach was complete. On Europe’s highest mountain, covered in sweat, dirt and salty tears, I felt my exhausted body filling up with pride and excitement. One by one my runners were crossing the finish line having left everything out there on that mountain trail. I had just won the 11km distance but that success was bettered by seeing my training group succeed in their own amazing accomplishments.
So how did they conquer one of the most beautiful but also one of the toughest trail races in the world with just three months training? Here are four tips to keep in mind when you take up trail running:
1. Learn to listen to your body
I understand this may sound cliché, but I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your limits and working with your body, not against it. I often see my colleagues come to training after a long week of work, lacking sleep, stressed out. We live a busy life, and while some may think I respect their decision to show up, really I am much happier when my trainees learn to prioritize. I want them to understand how rest and sleep can actually be their best workout decision.
2. Make your city your playground
Start with basic running exercises just like you would for running on the flat, but then start to introduce different surfaces. An athlete who is running trails must think about the changing terrain and incline levels, weather conditions, and of course altitude. For training purposes, we transformed our city into a gigantic playground. The weirder the surfaces we found to run on – the more benefit we got out of it.
3. Train your muscles for the terrain
Elbrus is one of the most prominent mountain peaks in the world. Preparing a technique for running on slippery, sharp, sandy, and often unpredictable surfaces is what makes trail running so interesting. During our drills we shifted our focus to body balance and coordination, involving more the front side of our foot, and particularly building agility in our calf muscles. We varied running on different slopes, practiced turns and figured out how to maneuver bumps in the road, and practiced running downhill just as much as uphill.
4. Use your energy efficiently
The more economically you plan out the race, the easier it will be to maintain a light run and a stable pulse. It adds up to managing longer distances. If our body is tight and muscles are under pressure, it can create a serious obstacle during the race and lead to injuries.
The feedback from my runners after the race was just what I had hoped for – passion, excitement and thirst for more challenging terrain.
Elena Podkosova: “The adidas Elbrus World Race is a school of life that teaches you important lessons: endurance, patience and team work. The 11km distance with a gain of about 1600m in height above sea level is a journey to a new self. It’s a race that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”