Getting "In The Flow" of Trail Running

Road running requires conditioning and form. Trail running requires these, too, but it additionally requires skill and coordination in order to negotiate obstructions. In this way it is like skiing or mountain biking: When everything is going flawlessly, it is known as being “in the flow.” In trail running you are “in the flow” when you are taking all the right steps, dodging each obstacle perfectly, and seeing everything you need to see. This is the state with which we as trail runners seek to be in. Here are some techniques that those new to trail running can use to help them get “in the flow.”

Vision

The first technique has to do with your eyes. When you start running on the trails the natural tendency is to look down at your feet for roots and rocks that might trip you. This is especially the case if you already have tripped (everybody trips in trail running). The problem with this is that this gives you little time to react. Things go much more smoothly if you are able to keep your vision 6 to 8 feet ahead of you. This allows you to see and anticipate obstacles and use your peripheral vision to avoid them.

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Shorter Steps

One of the most common mistakes that runners make is over-striding. On the road, this leads to inefficiency. On the trail it can lead to injury. When you take long strides on the trail you dramatically increase the likelihood that you will trip on an obstruction. In order to avoid this, trail runners need to take much shorter strides. It seems like this should be a simple adjustment—just take your current running stride and shorten it. In practicality this is harder than it seems.

A way to determine the optimum stride length for the trail is to do a good quick jog—in place. When we run in one spot we tend to have a good natural cadence with our legs underneath like they should be. After the minute is up, try to duplicate that cadence while running forward. You should notice that your strides are shorter.

Toes Up

In addition to shorter strides it is important to keep your toes up when you step. I wouldn’t even attempt to get into the debate about which is better—heel striking or mid foot striking—that’s for running gurus. But I will say that in trail running—where there is an endless supply of tangled roots, downed tree branches, and gnarly rocks—it is a good idea to stride with your toes up to prevent them from getting under any of those obstacles and sending you head over heels.

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Elbows Out

Another technique that will help you, is to swing your elbows out wide. This movement can help you keep your balance much like a surfer might use to stay on his board. It can be especially helpful on downhill sections and combined with fast feet and shortened strides.

Walking and Power Hiking

When I run on the road I never stop to walk. I am out there to run and anything less seems like a failure. I know it is silly but I also know that I am not the only one who feels that way. One of the great things about trail running is that it knocks that “run at all costs” attitude right out of you. There are sections of trail that are just impossible to run—hills that are too steep, wet rock scrambles that are dangerous, or downhill sections with loose footing.

Even the best trail runners in the world find that in these conditions running is no longer efficient and that is better to hike. When hiking an uphill section that is steep, you want to make sure that you lean forward to keep your weight under your feet. You can even put your hands just above your knees on your quad muscles. This will keep you forward and you can even push on them to get leverage. This is known as power hiking.

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Trekking Poles

When trails are particularly difficult you might consider using trekking poles. These might seem like something that would be used for strictly hiking, but many trail runners—including professionals—have been using them more and more in recent years. Poles help you to generate force by using your arms as well as your legs and can take some pressure off of your knees. They are best used on climbs or descents since running is much more efficient on flat sections. If you decide to use poles for only part of the time you will need to make sure that you have a running vest or pack that allows for stowing collapsed poles for when you are running. You will also want to make sure that the poles you use collapse small enough so that they are easily stored or secured.

There are three main techniques when using poles. Diagonal poling is when you step with one leg, and plant the pole with the OPPOSITE arm. It is the most natural technique since it mimics natural walking or running. This can be very effective because it helps you develop a rhythm. It is best use when things are starting to get difficult but you can still go at a good clip or when going down.

Another technique is called off-set poling. This is when you step with one leg and then plant the pole of the SAME arm. With this technique you only stick the pole on every other stride. This method is great for when uphill portions start to get really difficult.

The last way to use poles is called double poling. This is best used on really steep hills and can be used both up and down. This move is comparable to cross-country skiing where you plant both poles out ahead of you, then pull yourself through. This move can take a little practice to get used to and is best done with one pole coming down ever so slightly before the next.


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Newsflash: Belgian Karel Sabbe Smashes Appalachian Trail Speed Record

41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes.

Thats the new fastest known time (FKT) along the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail after the 28-year-old Belgian dentist and ultrarunner Karel Sabbe topped out on Katahdin to finish the thru-hike on Tuesday.

The new record is the latest in a rapid arms race that the AT has been host to in recent years, with numerous runners upping the ante and besting each other’s times on the Georgia-to-Maine trail. Until Tuesday, the record belonged to Joe McConaughy who set his FKT last year—Sabbe broke McConaughy’s record by more than 4 days. For his hike, however, Sabbe utilized a support team to provide him with food and other aid, lightening his backpack. McConaughy completed his hike unsupported.

“Nobody had averaged more than 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail. More than proud, I feel privileged for having lived these incredible adventures. It was a blast from start to finish!” Sabbe wrote on Instagram.

 

In the year 60 B.C., Julius Caesar wrote: “Of all Gauls, the Belgians are the bravest.” Over 2000 years later there is still some truth in that sentence. We have set a new speed record on the epic Appalachian Trail !! The Fastest Known Time is now 41 days 7 hours 39 minutes, which is over 4 days faster than the previous record, held by an incredibly strong and unsupported @thestring.bean. I want to thank my dear friend @jorenbiebuyck from the bottom of my heart as without his incredible crewing and support I would never have made the PCT as well as the AT speed records. Fun facts: nobody has ever held overall Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail speed records at the same time. Nobody had averaged more than 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail. More than proud, I feel privileged for having lived these incredible adventures. It was a blast from start to finish ! Thanks @skinssportwear for making this possible, without you there would have been no new FKT. Thank you everybody for the support!  #AppalachianTrailSpeedRecordAttempt  #teamSKINS #BestInCompression #HOKAONEONE#TimeToFly #TraKKs #Suunto #Selfpropelled#Ledlenser #kleankanteen #nordisk #trekneat #ultramarathon#speedrecord #AppalachianTrail #ultrarunning #ultratrail #trailrunner #trailrunning

A post shared by Karel Sabbe (@karelsabbe) on

In 2016, Sabbe also broke the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail (breaking the FKT of none other than Joe McConaughy), a title he still holds, making him the first to hold both records simultaneously, according to him. Not a professional runner, Sabbe burst onto the ultrarunning scene with his PCT record two years ago and spends most of his time as a dentist in Ghent, Belgium.

During his record-setting run, Sabbe’s mornings started shortly after 3 a.m., seeing him push most days for around 53 miles. His final day on the trail, he ran 100 miles for 32 hours up the steep sides of Mount Katahdin to capture the record. Sabbe shared his final steps on Facebook:


At-Home Training for Climbers

While we’re always psyched on climbing, the sad reality is you don’t always have enough time to visit the crag, boulders, or even the gym—especially during the work week. Lucky for us, there are numerous ways to stay strong and build climbing fitness without leaving the house. Try some of our basement beta, and you’ll realize that training in the home gym during the work week can translate to sending on the weekend.

Courtesy: Beastmaker
Courtesy: Beastmaker

Hangboard

Hangboards are one of the most popular at-home training aids. While that might be because they’re small, easy to mount, and inexpensive, these devices are also very effective. Climbers literally hang from a variety of different-sized pockets and holds to build finger strength. As a side note, this is why hangboards are also sometimes called fingerboards.

Pull-Up Bar

Although less climbing-specific, a pull-up bar suits anyone who wants to take a break from their fingerboard, rest sore fingers, or simply work larger muscles. In fact, you can use it in all manners to build climbing strength. To start, the classic pull-up is a great exercise for increasing pulling power. Then, Frenchies—pausing to lock off at certain angles through the movement of a pull-up—are a fantastic method for building endurance and simulating the pause climbers take when clipping a bolt or placing gear. Allez!

Courtesy: Sestogrado
Courtesy: Sestogrado

Rock Rings

No room for a hangboard? Don’t have a wall you’re comfortable drilling into? Live a life on the go? If you answered yes to any of these questions, rock rings may be the best solution. Used as a pair, these individually molded grips are suspended using a cord that can be hung from any number of anchors. Think about a basement beam, a backyard tree, or even a swing set at the local park. Although lacking the diversity of a hangboard, rock rings let you move freely. In turn, the motion places less strain on your joints compared to doing pull-ups or Frenchies, which involve a fixed position that may be hard on the elbows.

Courtesy: Reading Climbing Centre
Courtesy: Reading Climbing Centre

Campus Board

If you have a bit more room available, consider a campus board. Wolfgang Güllich devised its simple, utilitarian, and effective design to train for sending the world’s first 9A, Action Directe. On a series evenly spaced rungs on a slightly overhanging wall, climbers move up and down without using their feet to primarily build power. Additionally, you can increase finger and core strength and improve accuracy when moving between holds. Because of the physical demands, it’s not recommended for new or young climbers.

Crack Machine

Climbers looking to crush cracks can build a crack machine to practice technique and gain strength. Simple and easy to construct, crack machines feature two stiff wooden boards mounted to resemble a crack. And, while advanced constructors will create adjustable machines, most basement builders will find it easier to create multiple cracks in the sizes they want to train—primarily finger and hand. The best part is, a little goes a long way, and you can climb both up and down when training.

Home Wall

For those with room to spare, a home wall is the way to go. From mild to wild, a home wall can range from a simple mounted piece of plywood to a full build rivaling the rock gym. Whether it’s freestanding or mounted to the wall, the most important components are the holds. Consider a wide variety of shapes and sizes for increased diversity and fun in setting. Overall, the best home walls tend to be the most frequently used ones and ultimately do their job—getting you strong for climbing.

Courtesy: Moon Climbing
Courtesy: Moon Climbing

Moon Board

For pro climbers and those truly dedicated to getting strong, try a Moon Board. Back in the ‘80s, legendary U.K. climber Ben Moon devised the first Moon Board in his basement in Sheffield, England, and by the 2000s, the trend had caught on. Compact and simple in design, Moon Boards have a uniform size and configuration: 8.06 feet wide, 10.40 feet high, and positioned at a 40-degree angle. The holds are placed in fixed locations, creating a wall that is the same, no matter where it’s located. Because of the universal layout, it’s possible to project the same route as your buddy across the country, or your favorite pro climber.

As such, serious climbers can find thousands of established problems posted on moonboard.com and the MoonBoard App. Even better, with the addition of an LED system, you can download and illuminate the problems to make route finding easier.

Books

Strong fingers and abs only get you so far, especially if your training plan is haphazard, your mental game is lacking, or your technical skills are weak. If any of that rings a bell, check out one of these books for training your brain.

  • If you have the hangboard or home wall but are unsure of how to best use them, The Self-Coached Climber offers excellent advice for developing your own training plan. And, for something even more programmed, check out the training plans available from Uphill Athlete and the Mountain Tactical Institute.
  • For climbers truly looking to train their mind, The Rock Warrior’s Way is an insightful read about mental training.
  • The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference—From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue is an incredible technical skills guide that will greatly improve your climbing systems’ efficiency. Practice them at home, and you’ll find that you’ll have a lot more time to spend sending at the crag next weekend.

Have a training technique we didn’t mention? If so, tell us about it in the comments.


Stretch Out: 7 Yoga Poses for Paddlers

Waters have thawed, temperatures are rising, and the days keep getting longer. So, it’s time to dust off your paddling gear and head to your favorite aquatic playground, if you haven’t already. While you have plenty of things to think about as you prepare for the start of paddling season, be sure to give your body the attention it deserves, too. To help you out, here are seven yoga poses to practice before your first (or next) paddling sesh—or after. Or, if you’re on a stand-up paddleboard, you can even practice these poses while you’re still on the water.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Thread the Needle

Strong shoulders are key for paddling, whether you’re in a kayak or on a paddleboard. This pose is a great way to both wake them up before getting onto the water and stretch them out when you get back to shore.

Begin on all fours in tabletop pose, with your knees directly under the hips and wrists in line with the shoulders. Use an inhale to lift your right arm out to the side, and then, send it underneath the left arm as you exhale. In the process, bring the right shoulder and the right side of your head to the ground, as the left arm reaches out in front of you. Rest here for about 10 breaths before returning to tabletop and repeating on the other side.

  • Variation: To make the pose a little more “active,” you can reach the non-threaded arm up toward the sky, or rest the back of that hand on your lower back.
  • Variation: To make it a little more “restful,” either begin in child’s pose instead of tabletop, or ease the hips down toward the heels once you’ve settled into the twist.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Side Plank

As with most sports, core strength is also vital for paddling. Standard planks are an efficient way to strengthen both the core and your arms, but since paddling’s mechanics mean that one side of the body works at a time, side planks are particularly beneficial for kayakers and SUPers.

From tabletop, step back into high plank, with your feet together, and press through the heels to create a strong, straight line from the heels to your head. Shift your weight into your right arm as you rotate onto the outside edge of the right foot, and lift your left arm toward the sky. Keep your feet stacked if you can, or take one of the variations offered below. Hold for as long as you comfortably can, and then, repeat on the left side.

  • Variation: Take things down a notch by bringing the right knee down to the floor, so that your lower leg and foot point behind you.
  • Variation: Challenge yourself (and work your core a little more) by lifting up your left leg.
cobra
Credit: Ashley Peck

Cobra

Sitting in your boat for hours at a time can lead to a stiff lower back. As well, keeping your arms raised in paddling position may leave your shoulders, chest, and arms feeling fatigued. Fortunately, cobra pose may help with all of that.

Lower yourself all the way to your belly from plank, with your legs together and stretched out long behind you. If you’re extra motivated, go ahead and throw in some push-ups here. Keeping your hands under the shoulders and elbows close to the body, press the tops of your feet, your thighs, and your pelvis into the floor, and push through the palms to begin lifting your upper body.

Lift yourself as far as is comfortable. You may be able to fully straighten your arms, or you may need to keep a bend in the elbows—either way is fine. Focus on opening up the front of your body by gently lifting your sternum while simultaneously “squeezing” your shoulder blades together. Hold for five breaths, and then, release back down to the floor on an exhale. Repeat two or three times. 

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Down Dog Twist

Even though it may feel like your upper body does most of the work, your legs also play an important role in paddling. They help steer and stabilize your boat while you’re kayaking, and they’re kind of important when it comes to the “SU” part of SUPing. The beauty of down dog twist is that it stretches the leg muscles just like traditional downward-facing dog while also stretching out the shoulders a little more and helping build rotational core strength, which is where your paddling power comes from.

When you’re finished with cobra, press back up to tabletop. Then, begin working your way into downward-facing dog, but with your feet a little bit wider apart than the usual hip distance. On an exhale, reach your right hand back toward the left leg, taking hold of your calf or ankle—whichever feels best—and let your gaze come under the left armpit. Hold for a few breaths, return to down dog on an inhale, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Chair Twist

Similar to the way down dog twist addresses the shoulders and core while stretching the legs, chair twist does the same while strengthening the legs. In addition, both of these twisting poses can help strengthen the lower back, which in turn helps you avoid paddler’s back pain.

Start in a regular chair pose (feet together or hip-distance apart, lowering the hips toward the floor, and keeping your weight in the heels) with hands at heart center. Use an inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, bring your right elbow toward the left outer thigh on an exhale. Peek down at your knees to make sure they stay facing forward and are even with each other. Keep pressing your palms into one another to stretch out your shoulders, or spread your wings (right hand toward the floor, and left arm reaching high) to open up through the chest. Stay here for about 30 seconds, and then, switch sides.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Boat Twist

Even if it weren’t so appropriately named, boat twist would still be an important pose for paddlers to practice. Just as traditional boat pose improves core strength and balance, so, too, does boat twist—with the added benefit of working the obliques to continue building rotational core strength.

Bring yourself to a seated position with your feet flat on the floor. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, exhale to lean back into boat pose with the knees bent and lower legs parallel to the floor. Keep your core engaged, and twist toward the right on your next exhale, reaching your right arm back and sending the left hand toward your feet. Hold for five breaths before returning to center, and then, repeat on the other side.

  • Variation: If you can extend your legs in boat pose, try crossing your right leg over the left, and holding onto the inside of your left foot with the left hand as you twist to the right. When you switch sides, do the opposite.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Half Lord of the Fishes

We’ll wrap things up with one more twist, since having a strong, fully mobile torso is so vital to both kayaking and paddleboarding. Again, even if half lord of the fishes didn’t have such a perfect name, it would be a pose every paddler should practice regularly. In addition to the benefits of the other twisting poses we’ve done, this one also provides a gentle stretch through the hips, which will feel particularly amazing after you spend the day sitting in a kayak.

Start seated with your legs extended in front of you. Hug your right knee in toward the chest, and then, cross the right leg over the left, so that your right foot is on the floor next to your left thigh. Bend your left leg to bring the left foot toward your right hip. On an inhale, sit up nice and tall. As you exhale, twist toward the right, pressing your right hand into the floor just behind you for support and bringing the left upper arm to the outside of your right thigh. Hold the twist for up to one minute, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

  • Variation: If bringing the left arm to the outside of the right leg is too intense, simply use the arm to hug your leg instead.

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Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cleaning Your Footwear

It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two.

What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel

How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Conditioning Your Leather Footwear

Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking.

What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner

How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear

Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material.

What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax

How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Drying and Storing Your Footwear

It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

When Should I Retire My Footwear?

If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots.

 

Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come!


7 Reasons You Should Take Your Running Off-Road

There’s no denying that road running is a great workout. It’s perhaps the most convenient way to exercise, but it’s not always the most enjoyable. There are cars to contend with, it can be jarring to your body, and running the same few loops through your town eventually just gets boring.

If you’ve found yourself tending toward the “hate” end of your love-hate relationship with running lately, it might be time to try taking your runs off-road. Trails are a lot like roads, except they’re a little more challenging and far more enjoyable. There are plenty of reasons it’s worth switching from pavement to dirt, starting with these seven:

1. It’s a good excuse to slow down

Sure, running fast has its benefits—and getting faster is often a runner’s main goal—but slowing down every once in a while is good for you, too. The road, however, has a sneaky way of making runners feel like they constantly need to push their pace. When you hit the trail, the roots, rocks, uneven terrain, and steeper inclines naturally force you to run slower. In fact, expect a pace anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your typical rate. But, you’ll never feel guilty about it.

EMS - BIG SUR -4672-Running

2. There’s no traffic

If you enjoy the smell of exhaust, horns honking, doing that silly jog-in-place thing road runners do at intersections, and the risk of getting hit by a car, then by all means keep pounding the pavement. But, if you’re looking for a way to get away from all the noise, fill your lungs with fresh air, only stop when you want to, and not have to worry about being pancaked, it’s time to hit the trail. As a bonus, the animals you’ll see will generally be alive, instead of mangled in the middle of the road—just be sure to keep your distance from them.

3. The scenery is way better

Every once in a while on a road run, I’ll pass by a building or house that looks cool enough to make me slow down and stare for a second. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing truly fascinating or beautiful to look at when you hit the streets. Trails, on the other hand, are much more aesthetically pleasing, from the colors, including lush greens in spring and summer, bright reds and yellows and oranges in the fall, and enchanting crystalline whites in the winter, to the way the sun shines through the trees to reaching scenic vistas and overlooks. Nothing you see on the road will ever beat the magic of the wilderness.

4. You’ll develop greater proprioception

In addition to being a fun word to say, proprioception is hugely important when it comes to running. After all, without awareness of where your body and its parts are in space, you wouldn’t be able to run without looking down at your feet the entire time. With all of the extra obstacles trail running presents—things like rocks, roots, fallen trees, and water crossings—your proprioceptors get as good a workout as the rest of you. In turn, this leads to better stability, balance, and the ability to better judge when and how to adjust your stride whenever you encounter one of those aforementioned obstacles.

5. It’s easier on your joints

There’s a reason people refer to road running as “pounding pavement.” Paved roads are hard, and every time your foot strikes down, a shockwave runs through your body. Of course, our bodies are designed to handle this kind of stress, and for the most part, they’re really good at it. But, over time, it can lead to trouble, especially in your knees. Running on trails reduces some of that stress. Particularly, the ground is softer, allowing your foot to slightly sink in when it lands and absorbing some of the shock before it makes its way up your leg.

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6. It’s a better workout

Running on the road is an incredible workout. It builds strength in the legs, increases cardio fitness, and burns a lot of calories. Running on a trail does all of that, in addition to naturally incorporating lateral (side to side) movements by forcing you to avoid obstacles, improving balance, and potentially burning even more calories.

7. It makes you faster on the road

Because trail running offers a better overall workout—especially if you do your hill repeats in the woods, which generally have steeper, more sustained inclines than paved hills—your overall running fitness and economy will improve. Don’t be surprised when your road running paces start to get faster as you spend more time on the trails.

 

Now you tell me: Are you a trail running convert? What made you switch? Or, are you sticking it out on the road (and why)? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


Stretch it Out: 7 Yoga Stretches To Do After a Day on the Slopes

I love a proper après just as much as the next person. But, after a long day on the slopes, a good stretch can be just as satisfying as a good brew. Throwing in a few yoga poses before getting hydrated not only helps the body recover from the runs taken that day, but it will also help build strength in all the right places, so you’ll be as ready as ever for your next ski day.

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1. Reclined Child’s Pose

Skiing and snowboarding both ask a lot of your feet and ankles. So, let’s give them a break for a few minutes by lying down. Then, hug the knees in toward the chest, and slowly roll your feet around a few times in each direction to give the ankles some love. Your hips have also done a lot of work, so go ahead and “draw” circles in the air with your knees (one at a time or both together) to relieve some of the tension there, as well. If you’re still not quite ready to come up yet, take some time to gently roll back and forth for a nice little back massage first.

  • Variation: If hugging the knees toward your chest is uncomfortable, try guiding them toward the armpits instead.

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2. Downward-Facing Dog

There’s a reason yoga classes typically involve so many down dogs. Well, actually, there are a lot of reasons. For skiers and boarders, some of the more relevant benefits of this “basic” pose include stretching and toning hamstrings and calves, working the small stabilizer muscles in the feet and ankles, and strengthening the muscles in your back and core.

To come into your Downward-Facing Dog, start on your hands and knees, with your toes tucked under. On an exhale, press through your hands, and start to lift the knees off the floor while keeping them slightly bent. As your spine begins to lengthen, start to straighten the legs, pressing your heels toward the floor and being careful not to lock out your knees. Keep in mind that they don’t have to touch all the way down! Then, take a few moments to “walk your dog” by pedaling through the feet, before you settle into stillness. As you do this, still actively press through the hands, working the heels toward the floor and lifting the hips high. Hold the pose for as long as you are comfortable, ideally up to two minutes.

  • Variation 1: With extra-tight calves or hammies, straightening the legs can feel not-so-great. Instead, try keeping a gentle bend in the knees to take some of the pressure off the backs of your legs.
  • Variation 2: If your wrists get cranky in this pose, practice Dolphin Pose instead by lowering onto your forearms while keeping the rest of your alignment the same.

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3. Standing Forward Fold

From Downward-Facing Dog, walk the feet up toward the hands on an inhale, keeping your feet about hip-distance apart and your knees as bent as they can stay comfortable. If possible, allow your palms or fingertips to rest on the floor. Otherwise, let your arms simply dangle, use the hands to clasp opposite elbows, or give yourself a hug by wrapping your arms around your legs. Spend anywhere from five to 10 breaths here to give your calves, hamstrings, and hips a well-earned stretch. This also makes it easier to buckle your boots or strap into your bindings without sitting down the next time you hit the slopes.

  • Variation: If your shoulders and upper back are asking for some attention, try my favorite variation. Wrap your arms around your legs, cross the wrists behind your calves, and hold the shins with opposite hands: right hand to left shin, and left hand to right shin.

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4. Chair Pose

I know, I know. You’ve basically been in this position all day, and now that you’re off the mountain, it’s the last thing you want to do. But, trust me. This is definitely a “hurts so good” kind of thing. By holding this variation of a squat, the entire leg, from ankle to thigh, gets stronger. Many sports injuries—and not just from snow sports—happen when muscles get fatigued and your form gets sloppy. The way I see it, if holding Chair Pose for 30 to 60 seconds now makes it easier to maintain proper form for an extra run or two on your next ski day, it’s worth the burn!

Come into Chair Pose from Standing Forward Fold by bending your knees and lifting the upper body, keeping your spine long and strong. Keep your hips as low as you comfortably can without letting your knees move past your toes. Ideally, your knees should be more or less in line with the ankles. So, try shifting your weight into the heels and lifting your toes to ensure all of the leg muscles are getting in on the action, rather than making your quads do all the work. You can reach your arms overhead, and bring the palms together at heart center. Or, if you haven’t already put them away, hold onto your ski poles for extra “authenticity.”

  • Variation: If you shredded the gnar a little too hard today and can’t possibly hold yourself up in this pose, do a wall sit instead. You’ll still reap the benefits of Chair Pose, but the wall will take out some of the work for you.

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5. Warrior I & II

The first two Warrior Poses are just about as common as downward-facing dog in a typical yoga class, and for just as many reasons. These poses have a sneaky way of working almost every part of the body—just like skiing and snowboarding. Not only do Warrior I and II stretch and tone your thighs, calves, and ankles, but they also strengthen your shoulders, chest, and back, work the psoas (deep-core muscles responsible for, among other things, maintaining good posture and stabilizing your spine), and help increase stamina.

To come into Warrior I, first settle into a high lunge by stepping your right leg back about three to four feet and bending into the left leg, so that the knee is over the ankle and your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Once you’ve adjusted your stance and are comfortable, spin your right heel down, so that the foot is somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees, while keeping your hips and upper body facing forward.

  • Variation: Stay in high lunge with the back heel lifted, if taking it to the floor puts too much strain on the back leg.

Reach your arms overhead, and gaze up at your fingertips— only if it’s comfortable for your neck.

Hold Warrior I for five to 10 breaths, and then, transition into Warrior II on an exhale by rotating your torso to the right, opening your arms out to the sides and parallel to the floor, and resting your gaze wherever is most comfortable. Traditionally, this is over the left fingertips. Stay in Warrior II for five to 10 breaths, and then, repeat both poses on the opposite side.

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6. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

You may not notice it at the time, but while you’re busy having the best day ever sliding downhill, your hips are working overtime—especially if you’re skinning or booting up the mountain to earn those turns. Now that you’re done for the day, it’s time to reward those hips for their hard work with Pigeon Pose. Start in Downward-Facing Dog, lift your right leg, and shift your weight forward while hugging the right knee into the chest. Then, set the right leg down, resting the right knee behind the right wrist and the right ankle near the left wrist. Press your palms or fingertips into the floor to keep the spine long, and rest here for 30 to 60 seconds to help lengthen your hip flexors, increase your hips’ range of motion, and stretch the hamstrings. Repeat on the left side.

  • Variation 1: If it feels okay, walk the hands away from you. Then, fold the upper body down to also work into the lower back.
  • Variation 2: If your quads could use a deeper stretch, bend the back knee, and reach for the foot, ankle, or shin with your hand.
  • Variation 3: If this expression of Pigeon Pose causes too much stress, strain, or pain anywhere in your body, try performing a Figure 4 stretch while sitting in a chair or lying on your back instead.

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7. Boat Pose

To wrap up your post-ski or snowboard yoga session, spend some time in Half Boat Pose to strengthen your core, including the psoas, spine, and hip flexors, and to stretch out the hamstrings a little bit more. Start by coming into a seated position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage the core, and lift your arms out in front of you. Then, without rounding the spine, slowly start to lean back and lift the legs, until they’re in line with the arms and your calves are parallel to the floor. Hold for three to five breaths, release, and repeat one or two more times.

  • Variation 1: Hold onto the backs of the thighs, instead of keeping the arms outstretched, for additional support.
  • Variation 2: If you’re up for more of a challenge, begin to straighten the legs into “full” Boat Pose.