It’s no secret that running on trails is very different from running on the roads. Besides being way more fun, running on the trails demands concentration, a different shoe, and a more flexible stride and cadence, depending on the terrain. We recently caught up with XTERRA athlete AJ Petrillo, who has raced the XTERRA Oak Mountain course seven times. He shares his perspective on how to run on roots, how to prepare for the heat, and when to make your move.
Q. Tell us about the XTERRA Oak Mountain run course
A. Well first of all, it’s a whole lot easier than it used to be. The first time I did XTERRA Oak Mountain, the run was on a different trail. It was like a death march. I love stuff like that, so I have to say that I kind of miss it, even though the new course is a lot more runnable.
Q. What can runners expect from the terrain at XTERRA Oak Mountain?
A. It’s not a super hard or technical run course. In fact, you can get away with not wearing trail shoes if you don’t have them. The biggest issues come from the roots and the tight switchbacks. There are also a couple of dips that are full of roots, and those dips can get pretty wet and slippery.
Overall, the course is pretty fun and flowy. However, it can be pretty hot by the time you cross the dam, which is exposed and not shaded at all. Definitely save some for the dam and make sure you hydrate. Even though the course starts out fast on the roads before you dive into the single track, start out conservatively so that you can handle the heat. Just to be safe, I start drinking more fluids a few days before the race, and take water and Gatorade on the course.
Q. What’s your advice for running on the rooty sections in the woods?
A. When running on roots, be super light on your feet. Imagine you are running on glass and take quick, short steps. This is especially if it’s wet, because the roots can get really slippery. You also want to avoid the temptation to look straight down. Make sure you look far enough ahead so you can see what’s coming.
Q. How should you handle the tight switchbacks?
A. Again, you want to look far enough head to see the next turn, and keep your stride a bit shorter so you can navigate the turns. At XTERRA Oak Mountain, the turns are too tight to run the tangents and save time, so stay smart, stay balanced, and lean into the turns.
Q. Is there an opportunity to open up and make a move?
A. The dam is a great place because it’s flat and fast. Also, the finish on the road is a nice chance to put in a sprint. So save some for the end. Overall, XTERRA Oak Mountain is just a good, honest course. I love it.