One consistent theme runs throughout all my hiking excursions with my younger brother: I am always the one who slips and falls smack on my butt at least once a hike. He, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, loses his balance. The trail can be slippery and slick with mud (especially when we were hiking in Scotland), but he floats along effortlessly. And he’s not even a trail runner.
Clearly I must be doing something wrong. Or perhaps my brother is intuitively doing something right.
As an avid badminton player, he is extremely agile and lighting quick on his feet. Years of darting forwards, backwards, and sideways on the badminton court has trained him to constantly change direction at high speed, losing and regaining balance..
With the arrival of the wet season in Hong Kong, days of rain can leave the trails perennially wet and slippery. So how do you deal with slippery slopes and steps while trying to maintain speed?
I decided to seek advice from the pros.
Marie McNaughton, a Kiwi living in Hong Kong and a world-class trail runnersaid: “You sure I’m the right person to help? I busted my ankle on a slippery slope.”
Last August during the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 120km TDS race she horrifically broke her leg. She had plates and pins taken out of her ankle late last year, but she now has a lesson for us all to heed as she prepares for the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in California at the end of this month.
McNaughton said she made the mistake of choosing old comfy shoes that had worn-out grip. “When the weather turned, I paid the price.”
“I think in Hong Kong we have a unique type of slippery rock,” said McNaughton. “A good shoe is a prerequisite and I’ve not found many better than shoes with Vibram Megagrip. All others just really don’t cut it on rock here.” But with the right kind of rubbery, sticky grip, “you will have confidence and be fine.”
With regard to technique, McNaughton suggests making sure to be “even lighter and faster than normal” with leg speed and foot contact time.
Wong Ho-Chung, another world-class Hong Kong trail runner who will be representing the city’s national team at the Trail World Championships in Portugal this weekend, also advises quick and light steps, pushing off as soon as your feet touch the ground.
Another important thing to keep in mind, he said, is to tilt forward into the descent. Leaning backwards puts massive brakes on your running mechanics, whereas leaning into the hill and keeping your upper body over your lower body smooths out your stride and keeps it fluid. And if you feel yourself careering out of control, simply lean back and ease off.
“If you have good technique, you can manage even without good shoes,” Wong said.