By Mountain Trail Test Director, Lisa Jhung
Professional trail runner Max King has been racing trails—and winning races like the World Mountain Running Championships and World 100K Championships—for a couple of decades. The 37-year-old from Bend, Oregon led a stop on Salomon’s How to Trail Run clinic tour—a series that made 50 stops around the country in 2017 and plans to expand to 75 in 2018. The clinics are catered toward never-before trail runners, but also offers tips any runner can learn from. Here’s what King had to say at the Boulder, Colorado clinic about what can make you a better trail runner:
1. Hiking is okay. King points out that many road runners or athletes from other sports, or from off the couch, might be intimidated by the thought of trail running because they can’t fathom running an entire trail that they would normally hike. King implores that you don’t have to run that whole trail. Hiking portions of a trail run is more than okay; it can be more efficient than trying to run a steep section, and a good way to build up fitness overall.
2. Posture is important. Another thing that keeps people from trying trail running, says King, is the fear of rolling an ankle or tripping. To mitigate the possibility of either, King recommends keeping an upright posture, with your feet staying more beneath your hips than stretched out way in front of you. If you hit a rock awkwardly with your feet underneath you, he explains, you’re more set up to recover gracefully than if your leg and foot is extended too far from your body and center of gravity. Also, he says, keep your head on top of your shoulders to encourage overall balance and open lungs.
3. Keep a short stride on uphills. A short, efficient stride will help you chip away at a long climb and pick your footing around obstacles, says King. Seek out little rocks or trail features as stepping stones to larger rocks and obstacles to try to cut down on giant leaps that create fatigue; going uphill will create enough fatigue. As an aside, carry over that short stride to flats at the top of the hill to continue working on efficient running form.
4. Accept the downhill. King has clinic-goers do a forward-facing “trust fall” by standing facing downhill on a trail with arms out and leaning forward. As late into the fall as possible, he has fall-ees catch themselves and continue running downhill, “accepting” that gravity is your friend. He says to work on a quick cadence downhill, with as little hesitancy as possible.
5. When hiking, employ one of three techniques. Whether you’re racing a 100-miler and trying to save your energy for late in the race, or just getting started running and need to hike sections, King recommends one of three hiking techniques and explains how to do them: 1) “Mall walker.” On mellow grades, pretend you’re charging to a sale on Black Friday and take big, fast, purposeful steps. 2) “The trekker.” On steeper terrain, bend over slightly at the waist and put hands on knees, pushing each leg with each step for added power. 3) “Stair stepper.” On super-steep terrain, step onto the ball of each foot, keeping your back straight. Keeping an upright position will help engage your glutes for power.