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Luo Tao flies downhill at the OCC, during the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc week. Photo: UTMB

How to improve your running on technical terrain for your next trail or ultra race

  • Improving your technique and confidence on technical terrain can knock huge amounts off your race time and reduce your chance of injury too

Trail running is a rugged and tough sport that puts strain on your body and joints like few other activities do. So it’s important you have your conditioning and mindset right before charging out into the mountains. Nowhere is this more true than on technical terrain, like jagged rocks, gravel paths, steep cliffs, slippy or muddy slopes and any other off-road surface that springs to mind.

Here are a few tips to improve your technical terrain running.

Practice is for you mind and body

If you intend to run a technical trail race, make sure you practice on technical terrain. Horses for courses. Start slow, or you risk injury. And importantly, start with short training sessions and extend your time on the trails as you improve.

Practising on technical trails will strengthen the small stabilising muscles, and physically you will get better at it. But more importantly, technical terrain requires high degrees of concentration. Mental energy is finite, just like your physical capacity, so the more you practice the longer your will be able to maintain your focus on race day, keep your speed high and avoid injuries.

Single leg training

Speaking of stabilising muscles, make sure you incorporate weight training into your training regime. In particular, do single leg exercises, like Bulgarian split squats, single leg Romanian dead lifts, lunges, deceleration single leg jumps. If possible, it is best to do these exercises without any shoes on, so your stabilising muscles are working as much as possible.

You can also do balancing exercises, like standing on wobble boards.

Strengthening your core will help you by allowing you to maintain your technique for longer and helping your balance.


Take shorter steps than you would on flat terrain. A higher step rate will allow you to maintain control and reduce the chance of tripping and injuring yourself. 

Eyes forward

With obstacles and potential tripping hazards all around your feet, it is tempting to stare down and make sure you know exactly where your foot is falling. But it is better to anticipate than react. Keep your eyes forward – about 5m ahead of you – and trust your brain to remember what is coming.

Starting slowly, but being strict about looking ahead, is important and you will improve with time as you get more confident.

Upright posture

Do not lean back to try and slow yourself. Stand upright, with your centre of gravity over your feet. It can feel a little like you are controlled falling, so it takes practice to get used to, but with short steps and a strong core you will be able to maintain your posture. Also, do not lean too far forward or you may actually fall forward.