We may consider trail running so natural that when we speak of technique, it boils down to one foot in front of the other…is it really that simple? I ran yesterday with a newbie to the trails and we had a conversation about uphill technique. The newbie was primarily a roadie and was super interested in making the transition to trails. We ran on some flat terrain to start, followed by some easy rolling hills, and then…a major uphill. I said that we'd take it easy on the short, gentle, rolling portion of the trail to get ready for the long, continuous, rather unrelenting uphill. Lulled into an easy pace, I think she was a bit overconfident. I said that once we started climbing, the ascent would last for about 10-12 minutes and include steeps, steeper steeps, a few level sections, and no downhill. I scooted up the hill (she said I looked like a little rabbit), and about four minute later, my running partner eclipsed the last hill. She said, "That was a lot tougher than I thought it would be... I have a lot to learn." Hence, I gave her some tips. When running uphill on the trails it is best to roll on your foot using the entire foot as opposed to getting up on the toes – which is the tendency. It seems natural to run on the toes, especially if you are a short distance road or track runner (ie: a miler). On the trails, running on the toes is suicide for your calves. As soon as you get to the summit of a long climb, your calves are in agony if you are a toe runner. This is something my running partner confirmed when she asked me, "Aren't your calves screaming?" I had to smile and say, "No. I use my entire foot when I go uphill." We practiced some technique on some short uphill sections and she confirmed the difference. Another pointer for really long climbs is to get into a comfortable cadence that you can maintain - I like to say, "Get into a gear that you know you can sustain for the length of the climb and push to the finish." This is a great tip in a race like the Mt. Washington Road Race (pictured here with Rickey Gates and Simon Gutierrez in 2006) which has an average grade of 11% for the more-than-7 mile all-uphill event.
Enjoy your ascents and have some fun on the trails!