Offroad Running Skills

You need a different set of skills offroad. Here’s how to hone your technique



by Kerry McCarthy

‘Running across varying terrain is completely different from road-running,’ says Emmanuel Gault, pro trail runner and member of the all-conquering Team Asics Trail France.

‘With the constantly changing terrain, direction and  elevation, you use more muscles and change speed more often than on a standard tarmac run, so you need to know how to handle all scenarios.’

Here are Gault’s top tips on keeping good form when you leave the road.

Run uphill

  • Lean forward slightly into the gradient with your whole body – make sure you don’t bend at your waist.
  • Reduce your stride length and take smaller, more frequent steps, making sure you get up on your toes.
  • Pump your arms to propel you uphill. Keep them bent at 90 degrees at the elbow.

Run downhill

  • Don’t lean back and land heavily on your heels to put the brakes on. This puts a lot of strain on your hamstrings.
  • On gentle slopes, lengthen your stride – don’t fight gravity.
  • If the slope is of medium gradient, lean forward slightly, keep your knees soft, land on your heels and roll through to your toes. Also, keep your arms out wide to stabilise yourself.
  • If it’s a really steep slope, run down in a wide zigzag to lessen the gradient. If you start to lose control then jump straight up in the air to halt your momentum. Sounds like a recipe for face-planting, but it slams your brakes on.

Walk uphill

  • Don’t let your ego stop you walking – sometimes it’s actually quicker to walk a steep slope than to run it. Plus, you’ll conserve energy.
  •  Take big exaggerated strides.
  •  Keep your hands on your thighs, just above your knees, and use them to push off on each step. This generates momentum and saves energy going uphill.

Slide downhill

  • Identify descents – on snow, or mushy, leafy ground, for example – that can’t be run.  
  •  Crouch slightly and lean back      so your bum is touching the ground, and then start to half slide, half run. Let your heels skid along the floor and occasionally pedal your feet and run a few steps to increase speed.
  •  Don’t head straight down. Traverse in zigzags, as if you were skiing.
  •  Keep your hands on the ground slightly behind you to act as rudders. 

Keep your footing

  • Spot hidden obstacles and uneven ground early by keeping your eyes focused four or five metres in front of you.
  •  Look for footprints, tracks or flattened patches of ground where other runners have been before and follow those.
  •  If there are no tracks you can follow, always look for the largest and most solid object to land on.

Visit our essential trail running hub to discover the best offroad races, essential kit and how to blitz your trail fears.


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Discuss this article

Looking forward to tackling my first Fell run in November in the Peak District. I'm with a veteran so I'm hoping with his advice and this write up I'll survive!!!


Posted: 10/10/2013 at 23:25

The Peak District is a great place to start!  Lots of choice of trail or fell routes and fantastic views.


Posted: 12/11/2014 at 16:31

You'll love it - forget all the technology, all the stuff about pacing and that, and just enjoy the moment; the scenery, the fresh air, the terrain, and your lungs falling out of your a**e!


Posted: 12/11/2014 at 16:55

...just noticed, that first post is over a year old! How did it go...?


Posted: 12/11/2014 at 16:57

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