As with most “so-called” running advice, what is described in this article is not based on any scientific study or statistical, fact-based evidence of any kind. The suggestions, recommendations and advice in this article are based on the author’s personal experiences whilst training and racing on trails and should not be taken to be appropriate for all runners. Having stated this, the author encourages all runners at all levels of experience to try out new techniques and styles and adapt those that work best in alignment with each runner’s own unique running style, body mechanics and fitness level.
Before talking about this in more detail some considerations to take into account as a trail runner are:
Now why might these three attributes be important when talking about foot placement? Let’s address each of these in turn.
Firstly, the smaller your foot (shoes) then your foot placement options tend to be greater, as it is easier to place a smaller foot into a more ideal position when running than it is with a larger foot. For those runners with bigger feet such as myself (US size 13) then your foot placement options are reduced somewhat due to the larger surface area with which to be able to find the most appropriate point of placement on the trail. This becomes more prevalent the more technical the trail becomes.
Secondly, the taller you are then the higher your center of gravity. This is important as the higher your center of gravity then the less stable you will be on your feet. However, the taller you are then you will also most likely have longer legs which can also improve your options in terms of foot placement as you will tend to have a larger range of motion than a runner with shorter legs. Lower stability with an increase in height also becomes more prevalent, the more technical the trail becomes.
Your leg and core strength will also either improve or decrease your ability and options in terms of foot placement. You will tend to need to take smaller steps if your leg and core strength are poor than you will if you have good leg and core strength. Therefore with less strength, your options tend to be reduced in terms of foot placement as you have a smaller range of motion and hence a smaller available field in terms of your foot placement options.
As a taller runner you will also need to have relatively better core and leg strength than a shorter runner as you will need to be able to manage your higher relative instability.
So what am I saying here? Well on very technical terrain, shorter runners (which usually also means smaller feet) tend to have the advantage whilst on less technical terrain taller runners (all things being equal) tend to have a slight advantage.
So now that we’ve seen how the type of trail you are running on and your runner attributes can affect foot placement let’s talk about some techniques that may help you become better at this activity.
With trail running my general approach to training and racing is to “plan and practice for the best case scenario but be prepared for the worst case outcome”.
The better you are able to master the above techniques then the faster and more effortlessly will you be able to navigate trails.
In addition to the techniques outlined above some specific pointers (these are generalities only and some of the following pointers may not hold true in certain circumstances) for expectations on different types of trail composition are as follows.
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