Trail runner’s handbook: Expert tips to boost your performance

The margin between success and failure is often defined by one small mistake. One lapse in concentration. A misplaced foot or the wrong type of footwear. Sometimes the difference between a personal best and just another run is a matter of metres or minutes.

Once you step foot on that trail you’re going to want to get both body and mind firing on all cylinders. This takes an understanding of yourself and an awareness of everything around you.

“When you’re racing on trails, there’s a real feeling about battling against terrain and the environment, versus battling against each other.” – Lesley Paterson

Distance, terrain, gear, pace and technique. All things that must be factored in and mastered before anyone can call themselves an elite trail runner. Taking on nature and every element it can throw at you takes vigour. It relies on determination, motivation and dedication.

But it’s also about knowing when to kick on and when to hold fast.

When performance is dictated by an array of variables, knowledge plays a crucial role in keeping you on that straight and narrow.

The trail that leads to total performance is a long one. But for many it’s a fulfilling journey.

So, let’s kick on.

Jenny Hadfield

In this first article, trail running coach Jenny Hadfield gives her rundown of trail running tips to ‘…guide you to the trail and beyond!’.

With a back-to-basics approach, Hadfield talks everything from leaving your ego at home, to slowing down to smell the roses. Some straight up advice that doesn’t come wrapped in a bow, and says exactly what it means.

It’s about staying smart on the track. Staying smart, but enjoying it all the while.

The article reminds you to keep it safe. Be sure of your capabilities and limitations. Build up strength and balance and (perhaps most importantly) keep your eyes on the trail.

Keeping it simple and staying on the ball throughout your run will help you to pace your run and work on technique (use your arms!). Always look to be improving – and change between gears while running.

As Hadfield puts it…

“Adjust your pace according to the terrain, and maintain a consistent effort level as you climb uphill. When in doubt, walk. Running over downed trees or through mud and sand takes some time getting used to, and it’s best to progress slowly. Tackling obstacles will get easier as your body gets stronger and more seasoned on trails.”

Trail management will put you in great shape for tougher, future runs.

The idea is to train your body to think and move differently. Knowing when to slow it down and when to give it hell for leather, is something that will become almost instinctual over time.


Lesley Paterson

Next up is a collection of trail running tips from Scottish-born Xterra off-road triathlon and trail running star Lesley Paterson. Not only is Paterson a two time World Champion, she is also a fully fledged coach.

With so much experience under her belt already, Paterson’s advice is straight to the point and extremely valuable to runners of all abilities.

According to the her blog, it all starts with a little bit of attitude…

“The more I race, train and coach triathlon the more I realise it’s all about attitude. We’re talking about the “Get off your ass and get on with it” attitude. If you don’t have it, you need to find it.”

Harnessing that mental focus and the readiness to stray from your comfort zone, will give you a real head start in your pursuit of superior performance.

Paterson champions focus, technique and recovery in this article.

Discover how to build stamina with hill repeats and fartlek training, optimise your leg turnover for faster speeds and learn how to deal with falls on the trail (they’re inevitable!).


Michael Wardian

National Geographic got Michael Wardian, ‘…master of both road and trail running, with more than 150 marathons, 60 ultramarathons, and 20 triathlons under his belt’ to divulge some of the most poignant things he’s learned in his time as an ultra-runner.

There is a vast difference between road and trail running, and Wardian wants to make sure you know it. Training for the trail should be a tailored experience that prepares you for what’s to come. You might spend a lot of time on the tarmac, but you can always Break up your strides so you’re landing on your feet differently, mimicking the hazards of trails.”

It’s all about managing fear, attacking your weaknesses and making a true commitment to the trail.

“Even the best runners have room for improvement. Pinpoint your own weaknesses by running with other people, whether it’s a race or with a local running club, then focus on improving, whether it’s climbing, descending, sprints, or endurance.”

Leave nothing on the trail.

Maximum effort every time will see real, steady improvement in your trail running. Be honest about your weaknesses, wear your heart on your sleeve and become fearless.

Wardian rounds up with some sound advice on footwear: change your kicks.

Repetitive contact and motion is one of the leading causes for injury in trail running – something the ultra-runner knows only all too well. But one easy fix, and a way to mix your training up, is to invest in more than one pair of trainers…

“With different weights, you place your feet differently, and it helps keep it fresh.”

Injuries are frustrating at the best of times and can be incredibly disruptive to your training schedule and overall progression. Save yourself a whole lot of pain and discomfort by remaining proactive when it comes to maintaining your body.


Make it count

So what have we learned?

Improving your performance on the trail is an ongoing process that requires ultimate focus and commitment to the cause.

Running consistently can be tough, but by altering your perception of early morning jaunts, or 10-mile slogs in the rain, you’ll bring a can do attitude to the trail every time. Doing your homework and feeding off the experience of others will get you far, so work on that focus, grow your ambitions and make it count.