As trail running attracts new runners many are approaching training and races incorrectly, basing their techniques on long held misconceptions.
Top Australian trail running coach Andy DuBois is in Hong Kong to hold a coaching course this weekend and he shared his top tips with the Post.
1. Train slow, race fast
“Most people have an idea that the faster they push, the better they become,” DuBois said.
But in reality, it is important to take training runs slow.
Traditionally, runners have relied on heart rate monitors to ensure they are not going too fast, but in Hong Kong, where it’s very hot and humid this can be unreliable.
“The basic way of telling if you’re going too hard is simple, if you can’t talk while you train you’re going too hard,” DuBois said.
It can feel very slow when you start, but it is about building up that base.
If you go too fast “you’re going to break down and get injured and eventually not enjoy it,” he said.
From a performance perspective, going slow targets your aerobic ability. Going too fast burns carbohydrates and moves out of your aerobic zone, instead of burning fat.
“The easier you can go, to an extent, the more mitochondria you create,” DuBois said. “They are your energy burning cells, the more of them you have the more output you can produce.”
2. Too much, too soon
Runners take up trail running, and take on too much as beginners.
“A basic guideline is you don’t increase the volume of training more than 10 per cent per week,” DuBois said.
He added that it’s better to measure your volume by time, rather than distance.
A 10-kilometre could take two hours if you’re going up The Peak or one hour along Bowen Road, he said, so it is not comparable.
3. Unbareable shoe debate
As trail-running’s popularity grows, so does the market for kit.
A wealth of information around the best kind of shoe, or no shoe at all, can be confusing.
Hoka One One, for example, is growing in popularity, notable for it’s huge cushioned sole. Meanwhile, the book Born to Run is a staple in every runner’s library and it touts barefoot running.
“There’s no evidence one way or the other to suggest anything is better than anything else,” DuBois said. “The thing is if you change your shoes, let’s say from a 10mm drop to barefoot, it’s going to take a few months to adjust.”
Whether you are better off when you do adjust is up for debate.
“My advice is don’t get too stressed out about it,” he said. “Just get a pair of shoes that feels comfortable, and then you can get a bigger or smaller shoe depending on how you feel.”
4. To eat, or not to eat
“Food is a tricky one,” DuBois said. “All the science in the world is irrelevant because it’s based on your taste buds and your stomach. It’s about finding out what works for you.”
But, you should not leave this to race day. Never go on a race with food you have not tried before.
“And don’t rely on aid stations. It’s fine if you know what they are offering and you’ve tried it before,” he said.
Runs that take three or four hours should require not food at all. You should train for this time length without snacks because ultimately your stomach does not work well when you run.
“Especially when it’s humid,” DuBois said, “when you’re running all the blood goes to your legs and then your stomach is left trying to digest food with no blood there to help. That’s why a lot of people get nauseous or throw-up on runs.”
If you do eat, it is better to eat small amounts of food.
“The sign of not having enough food is feeling hungry. The sign of having too much food is feeling sick. I’d rather feel hungry than sick, and the remedy is just to eat,” he said.
If you have too much food, and then you regret it a half-an-hour later, it’s too late to do anything about it.”
5. Drink to thirst
DeBois says there’s a lot of research suggesting that runners should weigh themselves before or after races to monitor their hydration and that if they feel thirsty, it’s already too late.
This is incorrect, he said.
The research does not reflect what is happening out on the trails, where the best runners are finishing dehydrated.
“Drink to thirst and replace what you need after the run,” he said.
The research environment does not reflect the trail environment, so it’s not applicable.
Trying to over-hydrate means you will carry too much water, need to stop to pee, won’t benefit from losing a couple of kilograms as you run and possibly even damage your health if you are overhydrated.
“In Hong Kong in particular, cooling is the step before hydration. Freeze bottles the night before and put them in your back. Wear neck ties. Start with a wet T-shirt. Anything you can do to stay cool,” DuBois said.