Right now, many parks and trail networks in the country are closed due to shelter-in-place restrictions — and even if trails are open, people are being urged to stay close to home or within their communities. For trail runners who need to continue to improve their technical skills, it can feel disheartening or impossible to get better on trails without having access to them. However, there are ways to emulate trail running; you just need to know where to look.
FIND ROUGHER TERRAIN
Just because trails around you are closed doesn’t mean you can’t run on dirt and rougher terrain. Look for gravel roads in rural areas or wide shoulders of dirt or gravel roads in urban settings. There are also likely some sneaky singletrack trail sections in your area if you look for them — small pieces like cut-throughs between neighborhoods or short trails off of still-open bike paths can provide enough trail practice to keep you ready for when parks reopen. Make it a game and spend runs trying to get as much time off the pavement as possible. You’ll likely be surprised!
HEAD TO THE HILLS
“If you still have access to a treadmill or a steep outside hill, do some hiking at around 15% grade or greater,” says Alyssa Godesky, a professional trail runner, Ironman athlete and coach. “This can be a good way to continue to build strength in the legs even without trails.” It also allows you to mix up your workouts more: Run on flat or slight inclines on the treadmill or outside, and sprinkle in those hiking hill intervals. Make sure you start with short intervals so you don’t stress your Achilles tendons or calves, Godesky adds. Hiking may not feel super tough, especially after you’ve warmed up with a run, but it can be muscularly taxing.
WEIGHT YOUR TREK
“If you want to up the ante, add a weighted backpack to your hiking,” says Godesky. “It gets tough very quickly!” This is also a great strategy for the time-crunched runner who can’t do a lot of distance right now. No hill access? Godesky adds that you can do this at home by using a flight of stairs and carrying something as simple as paint buckets or gallon jugs of water as your extra weight.
RUN IN ALL WEATHER
Now is a great time to hone the skill of running in the rain, since you’re likely going to be faced with a muddy trail race at some point. Rather than waiting for good days to get outside or skipping runs because of the weather, use this time to toughen up and get stronger in the face of the elements. Racing on trails requires a high degree of mental toughness, so take advantage of this time to hone your mental skills.
DIAL IN YOUR GEAR
In some ways, trail running can make breaking in new gear difficult: Because you wind and weave so much, getting used to a new hydration pack, phone case or even new shoes can be tricky, so use this time to figure out your ideal gear situation from head to toe.
MAKE AN OBSTACLE COURSE
Every run can still provide trail-like obstacles. Climb over the big rock on the side of the road instead of running past it, run up and down random flights of stairs as you go, weave your way around lamp posts as if they were trees in the woods. If you have a backyard, set up a singletrack loop in even the smallest area. You can still practice skills like hopping over logs, awkward roots, boulders, a kid’s picnic table, a sandbox sprint or do a kiddie pool flying leap — get creative!