Off-Season Trail Running

This post is by Dr. Carrie Smith PT, DPT


Off-season is in full swing for most runners and triathletes in the Southeast. Many athletes have heard that off-season is a great time to “work on your weaknesses.” We all spend the season getting really strong, moving in one linear direction, but in doing so we aren’t always engaging muscles needed for lateral movements and balance. Trail running can be a great way to maintain or improve your run fitness, while also working on strength, balance, coordination and stability as you navigate steep inclines, off-camber surfaces, rocks, roots and water crossings. And it is fun!  Below are some quick tips and local trails to investigate this winter. Trail vs. Road: 

  • Pace will be slower, so planning for time run vs. distance run is a good way to start.

  • Power walk the steep hills. For most people, this is as fast as running and more metabolically efficient. You can also alternate 10 steps walking with 10 steps running to see which feels better or to stay mentally engaged on climbs in long races (thanks to ultramarathoner M Kitzig of Ohio for that tip!).

  • You will likely get sore in areas you don’t experience during road running. Most people notice soreness in the muscles on the sides and front of the legs, which is likely due to the increased balance demands of the trail. It is great to work different muscle groups, but be sure to also take the recovery time they are asking for between long trail runs.

  • Trail shoes have good traction and make a noticeable difference on loose surfaces. They are well worth the investment!

  • Take a map if you’re not familiar with the trail. Phone service is spotty in many of these areas.


Local Favorites: For a quick afternoon or weekend hike, you can head to some of these locations: Sweetwater Creek State Park offers mostly single track trails with some significant, short climbs. The red loop will take you alongside the water for some gorgeous views. Sweetwater is also home to a trail half marathon and 5k in February and April each year.http://gastateparks.org/sites/default/files/parks/pdf/trailmaps/SweetwaterCreek_TrailMap.pdf At Sope Creek Trail, you can access trails off of Columns Dr. in Atlanta.  After starting with a climb from the trailhead, these single track trails offer a fun, rolling course. https://www.nps.gov/chat/planyourvisit/upload/TrailMapSopeCreek.pdf Redtop State Parkprovides a great opportunity to get in some practice before the Redtop Rumble in February and the SwimRun event in early April!  With these trails, you’ll have a mix of double and single track and are never too far from the main road. http://gastateparks.org/sites/default/files/parks/pdf/trailmaps/RedTopMountain_TrailMap.pdf Worth the Day Trip: North Georgia Trails: You’re not going to go wrong with most trails in the North Georgia Mountains. This time of year is beautiful with the falling leaves and endless views from the summits of the Gaps. https://www.atlantatrails.com/hiking-trails/north-georgia-hiking-trails-our-top-10-favorite-hikes/ Vogel State Park: If you have ridden 3 or 6 Gaps on the bike or run in the Duncan Ridge trail race in November, then you’ve been by or at Vogel. You can access the Coosa Backcountry Trail for a strenuous hike/run and gain access to other trails as you summit Duncan Ridge. http://gastateparks.org/sites/default/files/parks/pdf/trailmaps/Vogel_TrailMap.pdf Enjoy the outdoors, and keep up your fitness and strength in the process!  Feel free to share any other trails you love below!

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