The sweet science of running high trails
While trail and road running share much in common – the training, discipline, and mileage – it’s the elevation, terrain, course profile and weather that make trail racing unique.
For that reason, we work closely with TEAM TSL – the ODLO-sponsored French trail running team – to craft our AXALP collection: kit made to meet the specific demands of trail and ultra-distance runners. As the winter snow starts to melt, we catch up with Adrien Seguret and Clement Molliet – team coach and athlete, respectively – to discuss how trail running differs. How weather, footing, and thin air add depth to an arena where some thrive, and others land on the back foot.
Beyond base miles, successfully completing your first trail event means carefully dialling-in the following five fundamentals.
Trail races require four to six months of muscular conditioning, much like marathoning on road. The important distinction for trail however is to add days that mimic oxygen-pour conditions – especially if you live at lower altitudes.
At some point prior to an event, spend time in the mountains, even if it’s only for a weekend, suggests Molliet. Trail races are long and complex, made more so by their undulating profiles. By covering the minimum training period and understanding how you react to running at elevation, you’ll build the right muscular and cardiovascular systems before you reach the start line.
Racing trails requires an ability to accept and adapt to conditions quickly, explains Molliet. From one minute to the next, it could be raining, snowing or intensely hot – the figurative ups and downs of mountain life. Additionally, there’s the distance and elevation to contend with – all of which can make for long race days.
To prepare, it’s important to be adaptable – a mental fitness that will certainly be accumulated over 16-20 weeks of race prep. To supplement however, and eliminate some of the unknown, preview the course if possible, too, before race day. By doing so, one less surprise awaits you at the event.
While shoe choice might seem obvious, trail-specific trainers are important if the race profile takes you into high mountains. Molliet jokes he has seen incredibly strong runners flail on account of being ill-prepared. To that end, he also suggests having a lightweight, weatherproof jacket close at hand. Even if at the start line it’s warm and sunny, you’ll want lightweight weatherproofing nearby for race and weather unknowns.
Food and fueling
There is no more divisive topic in trail running than fuelling, explains Molliet. Whereas one ODLO HTV participant will fuel every 40 minutes on gels, another requires bars or other foods and at different intervals to keep going. It takes time to discover the right mix. The important thing during long weekend runs ahead of race day is to experiment. See what works, cut out the rest.
Similarly says Seguret, pre-race is just as critical and just as misunderstood. What works for one everyday athlete doesn’t work for all. Ignore the typical advice of excessive carbs and strive for balance and nothing too rich. Again, by the time race day rolls around, you’ll have had many long runs completed. By then you should understand best what works for you and apply that same formula at events, too.
How often do everyday athletes need to drink when on course? With temperatures varying in mountains, this adds another dimension to high trail events. Cool temps can kill the temptation to drink adequate fluids; similarly, high heat can lead one to overhydrate.
In every case, hydration is highly subjective. Avoid “rules.” When you’re thirsty, sip. Stop at rest stations. Drink and refill. Always be sure you’re taking in fluids – the cadence at which you do however is another element you will have well-rehearsed when it comes time to put your race bib on.
ODLO’s AXALP trail running collection was developed in close collaboration with TEAM TSL. Check out details about the ODLO High Trail Vanoise here. See our AXALP running collection for women and for men.
Photo credit: Cyrille Quintard