I’ve found cross training to be extremely beneficial for me for trail running. I’ve found it easy to get into a bit of a ‘cardio trap’, where I just want to go out running, log the distance, and call it a day. But incorporating gym work is something I have to make sure I do to strengthen muscles that can then support me better while running.
I’ve had personal experience with this with longer races. I’ve done three stage races to date. The first one was completed on only cardio training. This in itself was fine, though an existing iliotibial (IT) band strain was felt from about halfway through the race to the end. The second race was completed on mostly weight training (extenuating circumstances made cardio outside difficult, and there’s only so much training I can do on a treadmill before I go nuts); the existing IT band issues were minor. The third race was completed on a training program that started with a combo of gym + running, then ended up solely cardio; while the IT band issues weren’t as apparent as the first race, I did run into some other overuse problems in the second half of the race that may have been avoided with a bit more time in the gym.
Conclusion (for me, at least): weight work helps!
I’ve had different training plans over the years, but in general having an all round program has worked best for me. I focus on strengthening the legs and core, but I also incorporate back and arm work, stretching, and balance exercises. Strengthening the legs means I get less problems from existing tendon issues and hopefully prevent future injuries. The upper body work helps mitigate sitting at a computer all day. Stretching (when warmed up!) helps keep the muscles from getting too tight, and balance exercises help with both preprioception (the sense of where my body is in space – useful on trails) and ankle stability. I also have a range of exercises I’ve “collected” over the years for specific things I have issues with, for instance ankle strengthening exercises to limit my ankle turning on the trails, or exercises given to me by the physio to limit the return of tendon-related problems.
I’ve been doing a gym challenge alongside the trail series and it’s been a rather intense reboot with regards to the weight sessions. I think it contributed to the hills in the race at Te Rau Puriri feeling significantly… less hard. I’m not sure I’d say easy, but definitely not bad. That, and I’ve successfully been doing box jumps for a few weeks now!
Nutrition-wise, as with everything else, each person is different. I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t have any problems with most food, so I don’t need to worry about lactose, gluten, or any of the big things. It pays to be aware of any food issues you have and keep them in mind close to training sessions or race day, as your stomach will be under even more stress while running. In terms of every-day, a balanced diet is key. In terms of race day, don’t try anything new. Stick to things you have tried in training while running. For all I haven’t had any major food problems that can’t be easily avoided, I did discover once during training that one particular bar I can have while resting doesn’t work at all while running. I did break my “nothing new on race day” rule once last year and discovered a delicious, thick hot chocolate didn’t sit too well with me when I still had to run / walk a bit longer that day. Go figure.
My race diet has been pretty carb and sugar heavy to date, with minimal thought going into what I’m consuming past getting maximum caloric return from easy-to-consume snacks I could grab easily at most shops. I’m currently trying different foods in an effort to make it healthier with a view towards increasing the protein, making healthier carb choices, and eating cleaner. It’s going pretty well so far, slowly but surely.
Race Motivator for the Bivouac Outdoor Wild Auckland trail series