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How To Spring Into Summer

It's spring, you have an endurance base, or you may have done a marathon already, and you want to continue your high level of fitness. What do you do??

You can do your usual training and races if you have a yearly routine, or you can ADD PIZZAZZ to that routine by visiting some of the trails and trail races around Ontario. Nothing will (literally) put more spring in your step and let you spring into summer (fitness-wise) than trail runs. These are how you can add adventure, variety and fresh forest aromas to your training. What could be more invigorating and mutually beneficial than exchanging your carbon dioxide with oxygen from the flora and forest? Talk about getting fresh!

Trail running and races will remind you of being a kid when you might have played in a bush area with other kids, making forts, playing chase, tag, hide-and-seek or capture the flag. Remember how much fun it used to be as you whipped down trails after each other? Remember the adventures you created, reliving Daniel Boone stories, Robin Hood tales, or, if you're younger, Gilligan's Island! Did you ever have a sword of wood, a garbage can cover shield, and scout staff hewn from a stout sapling for your medieval wars? Did you ever have your own 'Sherwood Forest' to rob from the rich and give to the poor?

No, I wasn't then, nor am I now, getting therapy for my vivid imagination, I actually played all these games with a neighborhood of kids. We had a blast. And today when I fly through forests and across trails, I'm constantly reminded of my happy youth. Mind you, be careful about that Robin Hood stuff now. You can get arrested for robbing the rich in the woods today. Trails are a place for PLAY, and that's why I add them to my spring training. Not only do I still get my miles in, I have fun and adventure and fresh air all at once.

This spring, live dangerously by breaking your training routine. Plan for it. Visit the parks in your area, and find trails, and discover, as George Sheehan said, that "Running is the total experience... but to play at it... is to feel its pleasure, know its beauty and live happily ever after." Amen.

These are the wonderful emotional and spiritual benefits to trail running, but there are physical and mental ones too. Though you sometimes have to run a bit slower on trails, you still get all the cardiovascular benefits, endurance building, and improved fitness level of road runs. You still get your run in basically. You do your body a favor though, because trails usually have softer surfaces and thus don't cause as many injuries as road running. You do have hazards but caution and experience help with these. The benefits far outweigh the hazards. And, mentally you become tougher because it takes more effort to run trails, to pick up feet over rough areas or roots, to dodge overhead branches or to outrun seasonal bugs and critters.

Trail paths are soft and spongy, and very forgiving to someone with sensitive joints and muscles. You may want to do the following on trails:
  • shorten your stride slightly on trails,
  • keep your eyes moving between the ground ahead and ground near your feet,
  • carry water and sports gels for long runs and a few first aid items,
  • maintain good form at all times (being more aware of it in the second half of your run so you stay efficient).
Basically follow the same rules that you follow on pavement and sidewalks: run safely, tell friends where you're going, run with friends, dress properly, eat beforehand. These tips are important, but the most important one is to enjoy what you're doing, to enjoy the outdoor aromas, the budding foliage, the sense of being a kid again and playing in the woods for fun. No one cares if you don't maintain an 8-minute pace for 10 miles. No one cares if you stop to watch a hawk soar by. No one cares if you slow down to 'smell the lilacs'. But YOU will.

If you're going to race on trails, make sure you train a bit on trails, as profound as that sounds. Some very efficient and fast road runners are intimidated by trails and their rough or rocky surfaces, ever-changing directions, and how they 'hide' runners ahead and behind. With experience, you will learn to navigate rough surfaces, how to hop from rock to log with a light, quick step, how to move through a muddy, wet section and, in the blink of an eye, see the drier spots to jump to. Trail running is an art form and one not always mastered by fast road runners. It requires more dexterity, flexibility, determination and sense of adventure than road running.

The 32k Iroquoia Trail Test is one of the better known trail runs in Ontario, but also up there is the Sulphur Springs 25 and 50k, and the Haliburton Forest 50k, 50-mile and 100-mile runs. These races and others are longer and appeal to the more advanced runner generally, though the shorter 10k and 25k races at Sulphur Springs and Ganaraska are great introductory races to the world of trails and forests. Check the Ontario Ultra Series at: http://ous.kw.net

For those into shorter distances with a twist, there's also orienteering. Orienteering Ontario holds 'Adventure Runs' to introduce novice runners and novice trail runners to 'the joys of trail running with a purpose'. Their 5k, 8k and 10k races require using a route map, getting it punched at kilometer stations and otherwise running like in a normal race. The fun catch is that you're able, in fact encouraged, to take side trails, to cut corners or 'cheat', to get to the stations. You'll be like a kid again in a big game! Call for details/entries.

Sheehan discovered that running as play is not a test but 'a therapy... a reward... an answer'. We're just hitting the racing season and you owe it to yourself to play too. As the title suggests, 'spring into summer' with the energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun you'll get "when you go out in the woods today".

Michael Brennan has played Robin Hood and medieval warrior in the woods more often than he lets on. Give him wide berth next time you meet him at the Bruce Trail Survival Run. He's perhaps had too much oxygen.
Michael Brennan

Coaches Corner  

The articles, tips and comments here are the opinions of the authors who have years of running and coaching experience. Our comments are based on sound, sensible training principles recommended by top coaches and serious runners.

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