Jez Bragg recently won The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. Dubbed one of the hardest races in the world, the 166K course sees a 9,500m of positive altitude change. Runners must battle not only the crippling length of the race, but also intensely steep gradients as they traverse some of the toughest running terrain in the world. Here, Bragg shares his top trail running tips.
Where to look when you’re trail running
Fix your eyes on the trail ahead to help pick the best line. That means the route down the trail with the smoothest surface, the best footing and ideally the most direct one. Aim to look about six to 10 metres ahead depending on your speed, so you have still got time to adjust your speed or change direction.
What to wear when you’re trail running
You don’t necessarily need trail-specific trainers for trail running, but as we approach the muddy winter months it’s certainly going to help. I’m a big fan of The North Face Single-Track shoes which are well suited to the huge variety of trail conditions as well as Tarmac. They are cushioned, have a good grip on all different types of surfaces and lightweight – about the perfect set of characteristics for a trail shoe. In terms of other kit, if you’re planning to run longer distances or head out for a full day, then a small rucksack or hydration pack is a good idea in which you can stash a waterproof, spare base layer, map, food, drink and mobile phone.
How to deal with hills (up and down)
You have to embrace the hills because they really do add a great dimension to trail running! They add variety, and that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport. The climbs can be tough, but shorten your stride, lean forwards and aim to settle into a steady paced rhythm to work your way up the hill. Depending on how steep the hill is, you will probably find it more comfortable to run upwards on your toes. It will be worth all the hard work when you get to the top and you can enjoy the views. Coming down afterwards can be even more fun. You will be running faster so aim to look a bit further ahead to pick that perfect line. Try to relax as much as possible to avoid over-braking and wearing your legs out unnecessarily. On the other hand, don’t run the downhills so uncomfortably fast that you trash your quads.
How and where to train for trail running
Training for trail running is very similar to road running, although there are a couple of important areas to focus on. Firstly, work on developing good core and lower leg strength to help your body withstand the rigours of running across rough and uneven terrain. Ankle strength is key, something that can only really be developed through running the terrain regularly. Secondly, focus on your hill running strength which will really open up the route opportunities. Don’t worry if you need to walk the hills to start with, again that will help break the distance down, but at the same time help build up good, solid leg strength. Strength and speed on the hills can take years to build up, so set yourself some long term goals.
In terms of locations for trail running, you really can find trails everywhere. In the UK (where I live) we have one of the best networks of footpaths anywhere in the world, so make best use of them. Try getting a local map of where you live, plot a route, and head out there and run it! I guarantee the navigation, variety of terrain and novelty will all help the miles fly by.
Jez’s top piece of kit: The North Face Single-track running shoes – RRP £89
Jez says: “This year’s The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc threw even more extreme conditions at the runners than usual; mud, rain and technical trails were the story of the day. The Single-Track shoe tackled the conditions admirably. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I wore them straight from the box and I didn’t get a single blister.”