Climbing up steep mountainside grades, navigating technical single track trails, and bombing downhill descents doesn't make for your typical run, and doesn't attract your typical runner. But, incorporating trail runs and new terrain into your routine will help stabilize and strengthen underutilized muscles, up your lung capacity, and give you a whole new outlook on taking your runs out into nature and off the roads.
The New Running 101 >>>
It's the type of workout that can make 2012 IronMan champ Pete Jacobs say, "This is a different kind of pain." And we know the first few ascents and descents set everyone's lungs on fire and wreck even the toughest athlete's quads—but as Jacobs remind us, a different kind of pain leads to a different type of fitness. "It's a fitness reality check. Your body adapts to your chosen sport, but never to the trails. Trail running makes everything else easier."
On June 21st, Jacobs, along with 14 other professional endurance athletes representing five intercontinental regions came together to run the Asics Beat the Sun Challenge around trail running's most iconic destination; the Mont Blanc massif in Chamonix, France.
We sat down with them before the race to get their best tips—for mortals—for taking on the trails.
Don't Back Down From a Challenge
"Getting out in the mountains and running steep ascents and descents is my thing—that's where I'm comfortable. I'm not as fast out there on the roads and road racing is a challenge for me. But that's why it's good for me to have to try and do it. It's all about doing what makes you uncomfortable to make yourself better."
-Megan Kimmel, USA Mountain Running Team member, America
Let Your Body Be Your Gear
"During the winter, I go ski-mo (ski-mountaineering) more than running, and I lift two or three times a week, which gives me a stronger, more dense upper body. When it's time for race season, it's important to lose that extra weight so I'm not carrying it up the mountains. I don't lift and I don't have a diet—I eat what I want —but I eat less and run more."
-Genis Zapater Bargues, Mountain Guide and elite runner, Spain
Try New Things
"After tri-training, I needed a break, so I completely quit riding and swimming, but trail running made me feel like I was running for a reason. It wasn't about being at peak fitness, but instead doing things I had never done before—and after the first 2K, I was like, 'Whoa.' It gives your body a new purpose because the goals of trail running are different than competitive goals so you can still find enjoyment in your training."
-Pete Jacobs, 2012 Kona Ironman Champion, Australia
Prepare For the Uphills
"You can't mimic the terrain of the trails with any other workout, so you have to get out there and run. In Singapore, we don't have mountains so I run repeats on the hills of the highway. One day per week, I go pool running to relieve the impact of running. One 40-60 minute pool run can really be a quality workout and adds necessary resistance to prepare for hills."
-Andy Neo, Ironman triathlete and Asics Asia trainer, Singapore
But Don't Rely on Cross Training
"I don't lift weights and I don't go to the gym. For strength I do plyometrics on hills. Hills are the best gym and that's where you can work on specific muscles. Necessary muscles for the trail are developed on the trail."
-Kota Araki, 2013 Trail Runner of the Year nominee, Japan
Use a Mantra
"Unknown terrain is always mind over matter, and you have to be mentally strong to face the unknown. It's easy to repeat a mantra on the trails and keep a certain thought for focus, because on a run and in life, you don't want to miss a minute. My mantra is 'I am here, You are here.' It reminds me that I can only be in the present."
-Johnny Young, IronMan and 2014 52K Rhodes Marathon winner, South Africa
Pick Up Your Feet and Throw Your Watch Away
"On the trail, your pace isn't always the same and it's more difficult to find your rhythm. Throw your watch away, be aware of your surroundings, and pick up your feet. If you don't fall and you use this terrain to your advantage, you will have fewer injuries than a road runner. Plus, you get to enjoy what you see and have that special sense of adventure."
-Holly Rush, European Games and Commonwealth Games medalist, United Kingdom