3 Ways Trail Running Makes You a Faster Triathlete

I’ve written previously about my first time

The first time I went trail running that is!

I still remember it like it was yesterday. Even today as a triathlon coach, I still adore trail running. It’s my happy place; where I find space and calm amidst the noise of my world.

For me, it’s food for my soul.

For you, it’s also a great way to build your run fitness, speed and strength ahead of the next triathlon season ~

What off-season?

Most triathletes go into hibernation during the cold, winter (off-season) months. This can significantly impact on your results next season because it can take you a surprisingly long time to return to your ‘normal’ training load without significantly increasing your risk of injury.

However the triathlon off-season – aka winter – is the middle of trail running season so the two complement each other perfectly.

Rather than going into hibernation and increasing your risk of injury when you crank up the training again next season, use your off-season to get into trail running. You’ll be a faster, stronger and better runner by the time the tri season starts.

It’s harder, making you stronger

Most people will agree – trail running is harder than road running. Sure, you probably can’t maintain the same speeds you can on the road. But the constant undulations and changes in terrain make trail running tremendously more challenging for you.

On a trail, no two steps are ever the same. Sometimes the adjustments to your stride are minute; a tiny adjustment to the left or right to avoid that rock or this tree root. And sometimes it forces you to go up, down and sideways to navigate around the log that’s fallen across the trail or the damage to the trail caused by recent rains.

All those constant changes do two things for you – they help to build your fitness and strength. And secondly they load all the tiny muscles in your feet and legs that get ‘lazy’ when you only run on the road. You’ll be sore in places you’ve never been sore after your first trail run! And that’s good news. Because injuries are often caused by the imbalances between the strong(er) and weak(er) muscles in your body. So you’re decreasing your risk of getting a (so called) “overuse” injury too!

Focus makes you faster

Ever had a major spill on a trail?

You’ll agree the challenge with trail running is that the moment you stop concentrating on what you’re doing and start thinking about what’s for dinner, chances are you’ll end up on the ground, looking up at the sky and wondering how on earth you got there!

Trail running generally doesn’t give you the same space to switch the brain off and think about everything – or nothing – like road running does.

It demands concentration and focus. You can’t run a trail mid-summer in Australia thinking about what’s for dinner because you’re too worried about the stick you’re about to stand on is one of the world’s most deadly snakes!

So what does this have to do with triathlons? Well if you’ve done a time trial or hard set on your bike, you would’ve noticed the second you stop concentrating, your speed or cadence starts to fall.

Your ability to stay focused in a race is critical if you’re chasing a PB. You can probably think of a race where you lost focus, switched off mentally and struggled to get back into it. Trail running is a great way to practice focus and concentration in a day and age where we’re bombarded by things with the potential to distract us (look, squirrel!).

A bonus reason – Oh, the places you’ll go!

Dr Seuss was right.

It won’t necessarily make you faster but it’s one of the greatest gifts of trail running.

You’ll see things and go places that few other people – let alone other (road) runners – will.

As hard as it is, it’s fun, often spectacular and generally challenging. But together with working on your run speed over 5km, it’s one of the best – and fun! – ways to improve your strength and speed on the run this off-season. And it’ll leave you cranking out the PBs once tri season starts again in a few months.

Have you done a trail run or race? Leave a comment below and let us know your fav place to run on trails