There is an enchantment to woodland running that you can’t experience on roads or a treadmill. Perhaps it’s the dappled light falling through the Eucalypts or rainforest, the seclusion of being under nature’s canopy or just the sturdy beauty of the trees. About 16 percent of Australia is forested, so if you love trails, now is a great time to go woodland running.
If you want to be a great trail runner, woodland is the place to hone your off-road abilities. Of course, many forests have wide, even-surfaced tracks – and they are ideal if you’re a relative newcomer – but if you head to the wilder, uneven trails that wind through the trees and over the root-strewn floor, you will gradually build those most precious of trail-running skills: coordination, balance, reaction and flexibility.
Weaving your way through the trees, dodging roots and fallen branches, and jumping over puddles will make you as sure-footed and sharp-eyed as a dingo.
When you have to focus on what is under your feet and in front of you (trees, mostly, and the occasional animal), your mind can’t wander as it might do when you’re running up an urban road. After an hour’s forest run, your head will be completely clear, which is a great feeling.
TOUGH BUT KIND
Because it’s often carpeted with soft materials, the forest floor can be springy and giving. This means that running muscles (such as quads, glutes and abs) get a really good workout, while joints (ankles, knees and hips) are protected because there’s no jarring impact when you hit the ground.
Your trail-running stance will be different to your road-running position: while a road surface remains (by and large) the same, trail terrain is constantly changing and dotted with obstacles. This means you’ll be adapting your running position to maintain balance: keep your feet low to the ground, land wide and add some bounce to your gait.
Focus on maintaining a strong torso, especially your lower back and stomach, and hold your arms away from your body (as if gripping a giant ball). These slight adjustments to your technique will mean you’ll be prepared to react to changes in terrain – you’ll be able to suddenly alter direction, jump or stop abruptly, all without hurting yourself.
THE RIGHT SHOE
If the forests and national parks you run in have wide, even footpaths, you can wear your road-running or regular trail shoes. But if you’re heading into deep forest, along uneven routes, choose fell-running shoes. Regular trail shoes are built to handle a mix of road and off-road terrain, but a ‘fell shoe’ is built for the onslaught of ever-changing conditions.
A fell shoe has a low profile, which reduces the risk of ankle damage that can be caused by sudden changes of direction, the snug uppers stop your foot sliding about, the deep grip helps you traverse slippery terrain and the widely spaced lugs release mud easily.
Now, what are you waiting for?
Words by Hazel Sillver