Trail running tips from athlete power-couple Ben Allen and Jacqui Slack
The dynamic triathlon duo Ben Allen and Jacqui Slack met on the island of Sardinia in 2011, and since September of that year they’ve never been apart - not even when training.
Ben is primarily known as an Australian professional triathlete, with more than a decade of experience specializing in the Long Distance Ironman and Xterra World Off-Road Triathlon Tour.
Jacqui is also a world-class triathlete from the UK, and competition has taken her to 30 different countries around the world including the Xterra World Tour circuit, ITU Cross Triathlons and In2Adveture off-road triathlons.
With the release of On’s new trail running shoe, the Cloudventure, we thought we would catch up with the power couple to get their advice and insights on how to train for, and succeed at, running off-road.
1. So, to begin with, how would you say trail running differs from road running? BEN: Most road runners are used to the same foot strike pattern. They don't realize that on the trail, you land differently each step due to the unstable terrain. That's why it's important to start slow and build into each off-road run - don't just start off doing the same distance you do on the road. Your body just won't be used to it. 2. What’s your advice for couples or friends to train together? JACQUI: It’s actually quite hard when you both compete at the highest level. You both want the best out of yourself and you want to stick with your routine. However, at least once a week we do an easy run together and often start off running together for most of our sessions, whether it be a long run or intervals. It’s cool when we can do hill reps together and encourage each other throughout the session. If Ben has an important track session I will try to go and time him, he will also be a pacemaker for me. 3. What do you focus on when trail running? BEN: When running off-road, try to look three or four feet ahead, which will allow your brain to capture a mental snapshot of your foot placement, and continue to process the images based on that mental snapshot, allowing you to run much faster! 4. What are some of the characteristics of On running shoes that make them ideal for the types of running that you guys specialize in? JACQUI: I love to do my road running in the Clouds, but loved the Cloudflyer and Cloudcruiser for my trails runs - that is, until the new Cloudventure arrived. I always race in the Cloudracer because it is super light and molds to the off road terrain. BEN: I love every shoe but do most of my running in the Cloudsurfers. I love to run on trail and they are perfect in techy terrain as they allow me the flexibility to move and jump from rock to rock on those particularly technical sections. 5. How do you train for crushing hill climbs? JACQUI: In uphill running, you need to exaggerate your arm swing, drive from your elbows, lean into the hill, and push off the ground with the balls of your feet to drive yourself up the hill as best you can. Just concentrate on the mechanism of your body like that and not so much on the incline your running and you'll be at the top before you know it. 6. And what about the downhills? JACQUI: You definitely need downhill off-road running in your training plan as much as uphill. Start with a short fire trail with gradual slope, with maybe a 2-3 percent grade; and move on to steeper, rockier and longer descents as you get more comfortable. 7. How do you manage stride and step on technical trails? BEN: For me on gnarly trails, I try to take short, quick steps so you can react quickly to the ever-changing terrain. The Cloudventure, as it's made for the trail, has more grip to help with this, plus also help to protect your feet from rocks and roots which can be a lifesaver when it comes to missteps.
8. Any advice for people who can't make the trail everyday? JACQUI: We are always in the gym ensuring we stretch and do plenty of core and roller work to help prevent injuries. Even when you're not out actually running, this routine keeps you ready for your next run. BEN: That's right, which is why we do more heavy strength work outs over the winter when trail running can be limited by the weather. Of course, there's nothing quite like hitting the trail or the road so we try and head out whenever we can.