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How to Prepare for Different Running Race Terrains
So you’re itching to leave the road well travelled.

Maybe that last race you ran just didn’t feel any different from your usual jog. Or maybe the adrenaline was there, but the scenery was lacking. Sound familiar? Luckily, the best part about running events is that they’re held just about everywhere, and on all types of terrain. How about a race over snow in the mountains? Or running through a quiet forest, hearing cheers in the distance as you fly over the underbrush? Here’s what kind of training you’ll need to break new ground.

Trail Racing

Trail racing can be an exciting change for runners who’ve spent the majority of their time on the road and track. The sounds of birds chirping and wind in the trees is so much nicer than cars, and the irregularity of the landscape keeps your mind engaged. Training for a trail race begins with proper footwear. Trail running shoes are generally a bit sturdier than your average running shoes, with rubber that wraps around the front to protect from stubbed toes. Look for a pair with deep traction, like the Saucony Xodus 5.0 GTX® Shoe. To prepare for a trail race, run on lots of different types of trails. Your local trail might have some nice obstacles and a slick leafy floor, while another a few miles away could have gravel to slide over and streams to dash through. Varied obstacles will teach you how to maneuver efficiently. Some key skills to pay attention to are identifying how best to run on each ground type, turning corners, and taking on streams without losing speed. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re going slower on the trail than you do on the road; that’s just the nature of it. In fact, if you’re new to trail running, start slowly. You’ll be using muscles around your knees and hips that you might not be used to yet. Ready to get started? The North Face Endurance Challenge Series has a variety of races for you to put those trail legs to the test! Additionally, check out Trail Runner Magazine for a calendar of trail races across the world.

Racing on Sand

That salty air, cool ocean breeze, pounding waves at your side – who couldn’t enjoy a race like that? Running on sand can feel close to running on the street. The trick is training during low tide, when the sand by the water is hard-packed and mostly level. However, because there’s usually a slant, be sure to run out and back so your legs are doing equal work. Running on a slant can be damaging to your knees and hips, so go for shorter runs at first and pay close attention to any joint pain. Of course, in actual sand races you won’t always get to tread on the nice part of the beach. Practice running in deep sand as well. It’s a great workout that will wipe you out much faster, making it a great option for days when you’re short on time. When running on the beach, sand will inevitably fall down into your shoes, and perhaps fling up against the back of your legs. Look for shoes that have a tighter mesh to keep most of it out (we suggest the Brooks Ghost 7 GTX® Shoe) and pair them with thin, synthetic socks. Products like Sportslick and BodyGlide that roll onto your skin can help with sand chafing as well. Ready to try a race on sand? Check out the St. Pete Beach Classic in Florida. Or, if you’re looking for something completely new, try running underground in the Sandmine Challenge in Missouri. It’s in a cave!

Racing on Hills

Most trail races have their share of hills, but so do many races in the city. The Boston Marathon, for example, has the legendary Heartbreak Hill in the final stretch. Big Sur International Marathon is even more challenging when it comes to running up an incline. Regardless of location, hills can be a killer. But here’s how to conquer them. First, pace yourself. Many runners slam up the hill, losing steam halfway up and practically tumbling over the other side. It’s okay to take it slower on the way up—your body is working much harder to carry your weight up the vertical. You’ll be able to make up for lost time on the way back down. When running downhill, maintain good running form and keep your weight on the balls of your feet. Leaning back can cause more stress on your joints and slow you down. In training, it’s important to have practice running downhill so you can feel how it’s done. Just be careful not to overdo it. Finally, learn the course ahead of time. That way you’ll know where you’ll need to conserve energy, and when you’ll need to pick up the pace. If you can’t try the route in person, many of the bigger races will have an online following where you can find some insider information.

Racing on Concrete

Think you have this one covered? You’ve undoubtedly run on a good number of roads in your life, but doing a 10k on a concrete one will be enough to change your perspective. Concrete roads can be around 10x harder than asphalt and can hurt if you’re not prepared. Like any new terrain, your body can adjust to concrete with enough exposure. Start incorporating concrete trails into your running routine a few months before the race. You’ll also want to begin using footwear that has more cushion than your average running shoe to soften the impact of each step. When race day comes, you’ll be used to your shoes and ready to hold your own.

Racing in snow

Snow is fun to play in. It’s even more fun to run in. Running in snow requires snowshoes, specially designed footplates that strap over your regular running shoes. It also requires a bit of a higher leg lift and wider gait stance, making it feel like running in slow motion. But the workout you get is incredible! Many runners who take up snow running find they are in even better shape come springtime than they were in the fall. Snow racing takes a few races to get the hang of things. If it’s your first time in snowshoes, try running on a short trail that has well-packed snow, or is “groomed”. Fresh snow is much harder to run in. Expect the run to take a good deal longer than your usual pace, as running in the snow often means lots of switching between actual running and power hiking. Whether you run because you love racing, or you race because you love running, don’t be afraid to get out there and shake things up. GORE-TEX running shoes will be there to keep your feet dry and comfortable in every landscape. Check out our catalog for the right pair for you!

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