Falling Improves Your Trail Running | 48.3 Miles

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Topographic map of a New River Gorge trail run.

Tonight’s trail run in the New River Gorge.

Trail running is hard, falling is easy and gravity creates this dynamic. The good news is you can use this fact to make trail running a little bit easier. How? Fall forward with a forward lean.

When I first started trail running I didn’t really care too much about form. It was the simplicity and intuitive nature of the sport that attracted me and I wasn’t about to jank that up with a bunch of theory and instruction. We all know how to run, right? Why waste time reading about it?

Now I know that’s a partial truth. Yes, we all know how to run. Give me an angry bear and any person with two functioning legs and I’ll substantiate that fact.

But, how well we each run varies dramatically . Some trail runners are just naturally talented, their bodies intuitively place them in an ideal form that gives them incredible advantage. These the are world record holders, the ones that increase our odds of being bear food (when they smoke us normal folks in the bear test).  The rest of us fall on a spectrum between world class runner and an amoeba. The good news is we can all take advantage of a fundamental trail running tip to make the experience easier, more efficient and more fun.

Tip – Lean forward. From the ankles.

I didn’t invent this concept but believe in it for two reasons. The first, it takes advantage of the indisputable laws of gravity. Second, it works. For me anyway. There’s a pretty good chance it will work for you.

Good trail running form, for the most part, involves an upright posture with the exception of your ankles. Yes, there’s pelvic tilt to consider, and many other things,  but those are subtle and subjects for another blog. If you stand upright and lean forward at the ankles two things will happen. You’ll feel your calf muscles, hamstrings and achilles tendons along the back of your legs start to stretch and you’ll start to fall forward. The stretch tells you that you’re engaging the lean correctly and the sensation of falling forward is how running is about to get easier. Falling is free forward momentum. To harness it just before you actually fall forward take a step. Then repeat. Again and again and again…. what happens? You’ll stop having to use your muscles so much to maintain forward momentum allowing them to focus on other things like responding to uneven terrain. The result is running requires less energy and your stamina is more sustained. Pretty cool, huh?

Listen to your body when you try anything to modify your trail running technique. If your body hurts when you try it, well, I’d stop or assess if you’re implementing the technique properly. If your body hurts after you try a new technique, in my experience, that’s just soreness from engaging new muscles and tendons. The most common way to botch this up is to lean forward at the waist. If you’re implementing the lean correctly you’re body will be relatively straight from ankle to the top of your head.

Weather you explore pose running or chi running or the getting chased by angry bears school of though you’ll find a common theme. Belief in the forward lean. Falling forward makes running easier. Why not give it a shot and see if it works for you?

1,151.68 miles to go.