Rocks are inevitable if you are a trail runner. Road runners encounter them as well, but it’s usually a stray. On the trail, you find them in piles, scattered, and rivers running down the trail. Negotiating them going up, down, and over “level” ground is an art, especially if you don’t want to tiptoe placing one careful foot after another.
We’ve all seen those runners who recklessly bomb the trials regardless of what the terrain is. Some of us cringe thinking, “God I hope he doesn’t fall on his face.” Others of us think, “Hell yeah, I wish I could do that.”
Whether you are a tiptoer or a bomber you have to get through the rock and you will probably stumble and fall at one point or another.
If you are the “Hell Yeah” people, it’s all about practice. Really, you’re doing the same thing as the tiptoer, but much faster and the more rock there is the faster you have to be. Going up and going down are pretty much the same. The biggest difference is if you fall going down it will hurt a lot more. Going up it is usually just a stumble without impact.
It’s like reverse wack-a-mole. So if you sucked at hitting the freaking mole on the head with the hammer when he popped up, this game is for you.
If the rocks are somewhat scattered or separated, look for the holes and put your foot in them. Small fast steps are your best friends here. Make sure you are watching both at your feet for immediate foot placement and two or three feet in front of you for planning.
Always be ready to jump to your other foot and redistribute your weight when a foot placement goes badly.
Different shapes and sizes pose different problems. Bigger rocks are sometimes a blessing because you can use them for foot placement. Big jagged rocks are not good, don’t try to use them as foot placement especially if they are wet. The problem with big rocks is sometimes they look stable and their not.
Smooth flat rocks present the problem of traction especially going up or down. On level ground, they aren’t much of an issue. Try to avoid smooth flat rocks when you are ascending and descending. If you do need to use one, make sure your weight is over your center of gravity. You are more likely to fall if it’s not.
Wet rocks of any size and shape are slick, even if they’re not assume that they are. If they are at a severe angle, avoid them. If they are a bit jagged you can probably get a hold of them to make a quick step. If they are round and crammed in with a bunch of others, you’re probably okay too, just be prepared for some foot movement.
Small rocks, fist sized or smaller, are better together. Ideally, there will be enough space between them that you don’t have to worry about it at all. Having them all pushed up against one another, makes it much easier because they don’t roll away as you land on them.
I’ve found moving over the rocks quickly results in less ankle injuries. Fast feet don’t stay on the ground long. You’re gone before rocks have a chance to shift. Tiptoers are going to stumble more than actual falling. In my opinion, they stumble more than someone who is bombing the trail. Bombers are more likely to actually fall if they make a bad foot placement, but I think they make less bad foot placements than a tiptoer.
Eventually, you’ll roll an ankle. When you do Rest, Ice, Compress, and elevate. Taking Iburprophen during the first 2-3 days will help reduce inflammation, longer than that and it’s not helping you recover. Get back out running/walking as soon as you can tolerate the pain. Stay off the rock though, because you are more likely to roll the ankle again within six weeks.
Start proprioception exercises as soon as you can without pain. Proprioception is your knowledge of where your body is in space. The stronger this connection the less likely you are to roll an ankle. Balancing exercises are good for this. The best exercise I know of is standing on one leg and writing the ABC’s in the air with your toes on the other leg. Keep doing this until it’s easy to go through the ABC’s twice without falling over.