To Johannes Moll Trail Running is more than a sport – it’s his passion. Exclusively for PowerBar he has put together his very personal Trail Running ABC with lots of advice, impressions and valuable information, not only for gifted trail runners but for beginners as well as.
A – Arrangement: Preparing for a trail running race is fundamentally different than preparing for a road race. While road racing usually involves a repeated sequence of movements again and again, trail running typically involves constantly changing terrain and gradient. Running up and down hills incurs fundamentally different demands on the body. Therefore, training should be more varied and consist of more than speed work on the track. Trail running can also be great training for road runners, since it helps build strength, endurance and coordination.
B – Boundaries: Boundaries are meant to be challenged. The boundaries will have to be overcome at the latest with your first Ultra-Trail (see U for Ultra-Trail).
C – Community: The feeling of collective experience is very characteristic in the trail running sport and takes precedence over the running itself. There’s not a weekend that goes by without the opportunity to register for an organized community trail run. Competitiveness takes second place to having fun together within the running community.
D – Downhill: Proper downhill running is probably the discipline that requires the most training, even though training focus is often wrongly placed on uphill. Downhill running in high altitude mountains that are often more than 1,000 meters high places enormous demands both on the entire musculoskeletal system and on one’s ability to concentrate. The goal is to arrive safely at the bottom while still having fun. Balance training is also very important.
E – Emotions: For me, the unique thing about long trail runs is the multitude of emotions that I experience throughout. I’ve never experienced that with road racing. As with the elevation profile, my emotions go up and down the whole time. I experience everything from feeling sky-high elation to being at the bottom of the lowest pit, and every emotion in between. After all these feelings, accomplishing the intended goal is simply indescribable – it’s pure joy and pride (see J for jubilee), and all the pain and hardship is forgotten.
F – Food: In order to keep the performance level steady a constant sustenance with fluids and energy is important on long distances. Keep in mind that a trail runner can’t carry too much on a run. Compact energy sources are as important as fluids and electrolytes.
G – Gear: Actually, the gear for trail running is no different than for road running – except for the shoes (see S for shoes). Course length and terrain type determine the appropriate shoes. You should consider how long you’ll be on the course and choose the right nutrition and hydration accordingly (see F for food). Choose functional clothing according to weather conditions. Safety reserves are especially important when running in the Alps. Of course, first aid equipment also belongs in your running backpack. Your backpack should be tight and wiggle-free. If necessary, think about additional equipment such as poles (which help to reserve strength and add a safety element) or a headlamp.
H – Help: Characteristic of trail running is that you help each other on the trail. Be it a helping hand, an encouraging look or an energy boost (the PowerGel Shots are perfectly suited for this -grin-). I’ve seen this helpful cooperation (see also C for community) most particularly in trail running and I really appreciate it.
I – ITRA: The International Trail Running Association is a sports association that operates internationally and is dedicated to the worldwide promotion and development of trail running. In 2015, on the initiative of the ITRA, trail running was recognized as an independent discipline by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations).
J – Jubilee: After finishing your first Ultra-Trail (see U for Ultra-Trail) don’t forget to celebrate at the finish line. Don’t make the cardinal mistake of looking down at your watch while crossing the finish line. This will give you unattractive finish line pictures. Scream out as loud as you can – from now on you can simply lie down and enjoy the nonalcoholic finisher beer, which is best enjoyed with the finisher cake.
L – Lighting: Don’t neglect the importance of a good head lamp for night trail runs. Depending on how technical the trail is and how difficult the conditions are, you should choose a model with no less than 300 lumens. However, in addition to the mere luminous flux (= radiation emitted by light sources in the form of visible light; unit is lumen), light distribution is also very important. Make sure not to have a narrow spotlight, but rather a broad beam range.
M – Mentality: Mental toughness is the strongest muscle of any trail runner. For any distance over 42,195 km, mental strength is so much more important than physical strength.
N – Nature: As an athlete who engages in nature, trail runners have a particular responsibility to make their sport compatible with nature. It’s always annoying to see empty gel packs strewn on the course after a competition. One should also think about whether it’s really necessary to trek 250 kilometres through southern Germany for a 20 km run in the Allgäu region. I find it very important to consider sustainability and act responsibly towards our wonderful nature.
O – Organization: I check off a packing list before each run, to ensure I’ve packed all the required gear. There’s nothing worse than sitting in your hotel room the night before a race and realizing that you’ve forgotten half of what you need at home. In the worst case, you might be DQ’d from the race for which you’ve been preparing for months.
P – Physical therapist: After your first Ultra-Trail or the Transalpine Run (7-day stage race through the Alps) a physical therapist is both your best friend and your worst enemy. A physical therapist relentlessly uncovers your weak points and though it can often be very painful, this will help prepare you for your next trail running adventure.
S- Shoes: The biggest difference between a road run and a trail run are the shoes. Trail running shoes should always provide the runner with a secure grip on the ground in difficult terrain. It’s especially important to have the right profile, which can vary considerably depending on the surface: coarse, up to 10mm deep studs for deep and soft surfaces or flat and abrasion-resistant studs for dry, hard surfaces. Many trail running shoes offer better protection against protruding rocks, for example with a gravel band or a carbon plate in the sole. There are currently so many shoes on the market that a suitable one can be found for every foot type.
T – Territories: Trails can actually be found in all Central European mountains and low mountain ranges. Simply search topographic maps (yes, there are still such things and it is wonderfully “retro”) or various online platforms and you will immediately find routes for your next trail adventure. My personal hot spots are the Swabian Alps and the Allgäu Alps. There’s an unbelievable amount for every level of difficulty and perfect tourist infrastructure.
U – Ultra-Trail: The supreme event. All distances over 42,195 km are called Ultra-Runs. If the majority of the course is on trails, it’s called an Ultra-Trail. Most often, Ultra-Trails contain significant elevation change via numerous up- and downhill portions.
X – Xtreme: If a simple trail run is too boring or easy for you, you can run seven days in a row through the Alps at the Transalpine Run. The Tor des Géants, which runs once around the Aosta Valley with a total of 330 kilometres at 24,000 metres elevation change, is also quite nice. For those who like it a little fresher, the Montane Arctic Ultra is 430 miles at -40°C through the Arctic wilderness of Canada – including pulka and frozen fingers. But where does sport end and adventure begin? Everybody has to decide for himself.
Y – Yeehaaaa: This is the most-favored scream when crossing the finish line.