Fischer Marathon Prep Workout: Singletrack Running with Mindfulness

Workout from Green Racing Project and Fischer athlete Caitlin Patterson

GRP skier Adam Martin practicing his singletrack running in Craftsbury in fall of 2017

Trail running can be a straightforward and nearly mindless workout – just lace up the shoes, find a local trail and go. However if you approach it with mindfulness, it can also be a great way to work on agility and prepare yourself for a winter of cross-country skiing. During my summer of ski training with the GRP, as well as a trip over to Italy to compete in World Mountain Running Championships, I’ve found that cross-pollinating between my approaches to running and skiing has helped me become more adept at both sports. For example, when I’m skiing, I try to bring some running-esque tempo and arm drive into my movements, for example, while herringboning on steep uphills. And when I’m out trail running, I bring to mind the shock-absorbing bent knees and relaxed upper body I use for downhills on cross-country skis to flow around trail running obstacles.

Running on a wide trail or road is very much a linear motion – great for building aerobic fitness, but not so productive for developing balance or the mind-body connection. Aerobic fitness is undoubtedly important for nordic skiers, but in order to make continued progress in the sport it’s crucial to train smart, not just to train hard or high volume. Singletrack running requires pushing off to the side, turning corners, and varying stride length and tempo to accommodate features of the trail – much like the way that navigating ski trails in the winter requires constant adaptation in transitions.

Workout: distance running on singletrack at an easy pace with a few accelerations.

To bring ski-specific mindfulness to your workout, I’d suggest that you visit a trail network with singletrack – narrow running or biking trails that wind closely over and around obstacles like roots and rocks. Select a small section or loop that you could repeat a few times. If you’re not used to running on singletrack, try to choose a smooth section with corners but relatively few tripping hazards. If you’re comfortable on singletrack perhaps choose a more challenging area; make sure at this time of year to scout for snow, ice, and water. If you happen to be running at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, I like to use “Peanut” near the north end of the trail system. Peanut has more lateral corners than hills and relatively few rocks or roots, so that I can work on running efficiently and smoothly without really burning my legs on climbs.

Start the workout by jogging for 10-20 minutes on easy terrain to warm up your ankles and lower leg tendons. Head to the singletrack and jog your chosen segment, to acquaint yourself with the twists and turns and features. Then run the loop or section of singletrack again – bring your pace a little higher for 20-30 seconds, but not in a way that it is muscularly taxing. Instead of expecting to feel muscle burn or to be breathing too hard after this small acceleration, seek efficiency of foot placement and a feel of flowing around the obstacles. Repeat the segment a few times and experiment; perhaps try different foot placements or bring your awareness to the upper body. Here are a few questions to contemplate:

  • Can you get to a point where your eyes and feet are synchronized, where it doesn’t take conscious effort to decide where to put each foot?
  • Are you still breathing well?
  • Is your upper body relaxed? Do the arms stay relatively close to the body and with a stable torso? If your arms do some light flailing or wind-milling when running downhills, that’s ok, but your shoulders should never be pulled up towards your ears or locked in position. From my experience a relaxed upper body is one of the keys to comfortable and fast downhill running.

As I think about how running relates to skiing, I’ve come across a number of helpful similarities:

  • Eyes scan along the upcoming terrain. The distance you’re looking ahead will depend on your speed and comfort with the terrain, but in neither skiing nor running should you ever be looking directly at your feet.
  • Shoulders are relaxed. Make sure the tops of your shoulders are not scrunched up towards your ears.
  • The upper body should not move vertically up and down very much when you’re running. I’ve found that when I run fast and with good flow on trails, it feels like my upper body is gliding along on an even horizontal plane above the ground, not bouncing up and down. For skiing, the upper body is somewhat more crunched over, as the abdominal muscles are engaged to pole. Yet in classic striding, V2, and V1 skating the upper body does stay approximately level, as in running.

What other similarities can you notice across sports and modes of exercise? From running to mountain biking, kayaking to skate skiing, challenge yourself to apply body positions or mental outlooks from one sport to another to teach yourself new ways of efficient movement.

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