Thursday, June 7, 2012

Viper's Trail Tip No. 1: Scatter Step

Since you all look up to me as a master trail runner, this is the first in a sporadically occurring series of advice columns for the off-road challenged. While there are plenty of other sites you can visit for the basics of trail running, these Trail Tips will focus on the specific lessons I've learned along the way.

Northeast Ohio doesn't have any mountains, although the southeastern edge of this fair state contains the foothills of the Appalachians. What this region does have is diverse terrain carved up by the glaciers from the Ice Age. The result is myriad hills, hollows, valleys and ravines that make for some exciting running terrain.

While our hills aren't the highest, the slopes of these inclines tend to be rather pronounced. What they lack in altitude, they make up for in steepness. Evidentiary Exhibits A and B: Boston Mills and Brandywine, the two ski areas within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Buckeye Trail climbs the back side of Boston Mills, and the Valley Bridle Trail skirts Brandywine.

In addition to the topography, Ohio also features a plethora of tree species, which translates into roots, roots and more roots, and the occasional hanging branch to dodge lest it poke out your eyeball. And then there are the rocks, with old quarries and rock ledges to watch out for.

The combination of hills, roots and rocks make for some natural step-like formations, which can be helpful going up but treacherous coming down. These potential tripping hazards require careful attention.

Now let's remember what Caballo Blanco said about trail running: "Don't fight the trail. Take what it gives you."

Faced with a downhill that is anything but smooth, I employ what may look like a random stepping pattern, with high knees and rapid foot movement. The goal is to remain steady and upright while moving forward.

With these quick, short steps, I don't want to land where I place my feet, but rather touch and go, tapping the flattest spot I can see and immediately lifting for the next one. Whether that next step is left, right, up or down doesn't matter. I just go with the flow. The high knees keep me from tripping. This is what I call the "scatter step."

Of course, you may encounter a switchback or some other obstacle that requires you to dig in and pivot, but the constant motion keeps my legs loose and joints bent to absorb the G-forces of such turns.

The other day, I was treading down a hill, and my foot landed squarely on a rock while my leg was too straight, and it was as if someone rammed a pole into my hip. My waist buckled with the downward force pulling my torso forward, but my leg had jammed my lower half upward. Lesson: Be sure to keep those knees bent and lift your feet quickly. Employ the scatter step.

And if you run on bridle trails like I do, the scatter step will also help you avoid actual scat, left behind by our equestrian friends.


derscott said...

Scatter Step sounds like a kind of dance, which is how I think of technical trail running.

Carolina John said...

That sounds like a fun dance. I look forward to more of these tips as I will be hitting the trails a lot more this fall.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Advice after the fact...