Trail Running Tips for Triathletes

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  • Published May 26, 2011
  • Updated Feb 19, 2013 at 11:39 AM UTC

The sun is shining. The weather is heating up. The thought of running on a “dreadmill” sounds…dreadful. This is the time of year when athletes take to the trails to mix up their workouts and enjoy Mother Nature.

We asked Dr. Victor Runco of the San Diego Running Institute to provide tips to triathletes looking to add trail running to their workout repertoire.

Trail Running Shoes—Are they necessary?

It depends on the trail. Trails are specific—trails with lots of sharp rocks may require a trail shoe with a forefoot rockplate like the Saucony Peregrine. Soft dirt fire roads may not require trail shoes at all or a hybrid shoe like the Mizuno Ascend will work well. Trails that are very wet and muddy can be run better with trail shoes that have superior grip and sticky rubber bottoms for better traction and grip. Trail shoes like the innov-8 talon work awesome for that.

Trail Running Complements Road Running

Trail running will make your legs stronger due to the fact that most trails (at least in Calif.) require running hills. Many trails are in the mountains so running at altitude can make you more efficient as well. Trail running also causes a runner to modify their running form thus changing the impact zones. This is different from road running and in a way is “cross-training” from traditional road running.

Interval Training on Trails

You can do interval training on trails with flatter trails being better suited for that purpose. If you are doing Xterra races, you need to train on the type of surface you are going to race on. If you are going to do a hilly course at altitude—interval training and hill work on hilly trails at altitude is a great option, although your speed will suffer. Speed work should be looked at as its own training tool and can be done in addition to hill and trail training.

Nutritional Needs Differ

If you are going to be running over one hour, it is important to bring hydration. Trail running is more strenuous than road running and in the southwestern U.S., trails can offer little cover from the sun. Couple that with any altitude and dehydration can set in quickly. Hand bottle carriers and backpacks are the favorites of most trail and ultra runners. Backpacks by Ultimate Direction and Nathan are the most popular allowing the runner to carry two liters of fluid for longer runs with many storage pockets for gels and food. Hand bottles from Nathan and Amphipod are great for shorter runs and carry up to 16-24 ounces with a storage pocket for keys and a gel packet. The recommendations by the gel companies are actually pretty accurate to replace blood sugar. You can try a gel every 30-45 minutes.

Strength Training for Trail Running

Strength training comes in many varieties and strength has many definitions. Most triathletes want endurance strength not absolute strength like a power lifter. There are many ways to achieve this like traditional weight training, cross-fit, Pilates, yoga, etc. None of these replace running though.

In addition to being a doctor I am a CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist). My personal preference for getting my muscles stronger and conditioned is coupling my running with weight lifting focusing on higher repetitions.

Dr. Victor Runco is a chiropractor, certified strength and conditioning specialist and the clinical director for the San Diego Running Institute. He has run marathons in 12 states, and has run six 50-mile ultramarathons and one 100-mile ultramarathon. He recently completed his fifth Pacific Crest trail 50-mile endurance run. He has been treating and fixing endurance athletes in San Diego for 12 years specializing in fixing running injuries quickly without drugs or surgery.

Please visit the San Diego Running Institute at or the San Diego Dirt Devil Trail Series at For more info on running injuries, home remedies or treatment go to www.sandiegorunninginjuries.

Click here to see the latest Shoe Talk with The North Face Double Track trail runner.

Jennifer Purdie

Jennifer Purdie is the Senior Editor of Inside Triathlon

FILED UNDER: Run / Training TAGS: / / / / /

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