5 Tips to Get You Trail Running Ready from Ray Zahab and Leanne Richardson

We all have our favourite running routes, sometimes the road running the same route can get a bit boring. Luckily, Ottawa runners have access to a variety of running opportunities just outside the city, including Gatineau Park where trail running can help shake up your routine.

This is what Run Ottawa member Leanne Richardson found when she first ventured off road three years ago. A dedicated runner with three marathons under her belt, Leanne fell in love with trail running because it upped her engagement in the sport.

“When I hit the trails I’m not thinking about anything else,” says Leanne. “I am focused on the trails, really engaged in the run and very aware of my environment. On the road I always need music but never on trails.”

Leanne got her trail running start at i2P and soon began training with local ultra-marathoner Ray Zahab. While both Ray and Leanne have come to love the sport, starting out can be intimidating for some runners. We spoke with them both to get some tips and insight for people who are looking to switch things up with trail running.

  1. Relax

Many beginner trail runners worry about getting injured on a bumpy trail, but being nervous only makes this worse, explains Ray. “The reality is that the more relaxed you are the less likely you are to twist an ankle. If you take your time and adapt to the rolling terrain your body will figure it out pretty quickly. You don’t want to stiffen up and tense. The more relaxed you are, the more flow you have the less chance of injury and the less energy you will use.”

 Leanne’s Insight: If you are making the move to trail running forget about your pace. “As roadrunners we are always looking at our pace and trails are so different,” says Leanne. “People often try to keep that pace and are disappointed when they can’t, but you can’t. It’s a different type of run. Enjoy it!”

  1. Map it out

If you are a beginner trail runner, pick up a map and find the best route for you, Ray suggests. “We’re very fortunate to have Gatineau Park where you can go to the visitor centre and pick up a trail map. Pick a beginner trail and start exploring. You can introduce yourself into it very slowly because its trails are very accessible.”

 Leanne’s Insight: Joining up with a trail running group can be a supportive and useful learning experience. Local runner Dave McMahon regularly takes groups out in Gatineau, i2P hosts biannual introductory trail runs, and Leanne often invites people to join her groups on the weekend. You can reach out to Leanne on Twitter: @RLeanne.

  1. Work on your technique

Once you are relaxed move onto the second most important technique: scanning the trail. “You don’t want to be looking down for things you are going to trip over. Keep your body in good postural alignment and keep looking ahead,” says Ray. “Scan with your eyes, down to your feet, straight ahead. After a while you’ll get used to the scanning process and become more aware of the trail.”

 Leanne’s Insight: For Leanne, the biggest impact of trail running on road running has been her improved form. “I think trail running forces you to run properly and efficiently. You have to pick up your feet, and up hills you have to lean more. And because it is hilly, you are doing strength training so it makes you stronger when you head back out on the road.”

  1. Pack the essentials

In the age of the smart phone, you don’t need to worry about getting lost or being out of touch, which makes trail running safer than many people think. Take your phone in case you need help, but more importantly because you never know what amazing things you might see on the trails, from birds and deer, to perfect beam of light through the trees. Other essentials that Ray recommends are a trail map, hydration for hot days, and, if you are going on a longer run, a life straw for emergencies.

  1. Enjoy the adventure

“What I enjoy most about trail running is heading out with my girls, seeing them out there and really enjoying themselves,” says Ray. “They get so excited when they reach the summit of the mountain and they just keep on running. That really captures the best part of about trail running: you can go places on two feet that you can’t get to any other way.”

Leanne’s Insight: Trail running is a sport that is for all perfect for seasons in Ottawa (in the winter Leanne runs in snowshoes!) and offers new adventures every time. “You can go back to a trail you haven’t run in two months and it is so amazingly different,” says Leanne. Trail running also gives runners the opportunity to push themselves and see new places, just last year Leanne ran the Grand Canyon in the Grand to Grand Ultra.

Are you ready to take your training off the road? Try out some of Ray and Leanne’s favourite trails in Gatineau Park (note: not all are suitable for beginners):

  1. Lauriault Trail Loop
  2. Luskville Falls Trail
  3. Wolf Trail
  4. Trail 15

Are you already a dedicated trail runner? We’d love to hear and share your trail running recommendations, so give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter.