Off road running is often considered difficult and more for ‘proper’ runners than road running. Whilst it is true that it is more technically challenging, it can also enhance road running (and not just by making you appreciate a smooth surface more!). As a keen off road runner and Chippenham Sports Massage Therapist, I get to interact with lots of local trail runners. Here is some advice that should help runners of all abilities…
Improve your style….
Trail running can help your running form. Often the terrain forces you to change your gait and shorten your stride thus increasing your cadence. You also have to balance more, using your core and obliques. Rather than solely travelling in a forward motion, you are having to turn/twist. This motion utilises and strengthens lesser – used stabilisation muscles which then relieves the pressure from the main muscle groups that have to work hard to drive you forwards in one direction on the road. It may seem hard to believe but trail running can help ankle and foot strength, as those smaller muscles have to work hard to stabilise over uneven ground. Claire Frances, GB Middle Distance Triathlete, regularly runs 11 miles off road to keep up her endurance and strength in the legs and beyond.
Make the grad(ient)….
Most off road running involves changes in gradient that is more challenging than on the streets of a town or city. Not only will this help make your muscles stronger, your pace will also need to vary as you are forced to run up and downhill, helping to create muscle memory and making speed work sessions on the road seem easier. Hills on a trail run will often vary in gradient and length, thus constantly challenging your legs and lungs with variety.
Less stressful impact…
The impact of road running on the body can create some overuse injuries. As the ground on trails is more forgiving than concrete, less force travels through the body resulting in less stress on all the muscle groups. As trails have changing inclines, terrain and obstacles, your average road run pace goes out of the window. Much better to leave your watch at home, or just not look, unless of course, you are following the route on it.
Part of the plan…..
Trail runs should ideally be in a slightly more advanced training plan as part of active recovery. Active recovery is an integral part of any training program for any distance. It aids in muscle memory, building your aerobic system, muscle endurance and can act as recovery from a hard workout. A route that is rocky or rooty forces you to slow down, not run to your watch but more to how your body feels and therefore acts as a recovery run. In a marathon-training plan, it can give your legs a break from the fatigue of running on concrete.
More so than all of these technical reasons, trail running can really help mental health, forcing you to switch off from the stresses of modern life and concentrate solely on foot placement and the few metres in front of you. There’s nothing quite like pausing at the top of a hill, admiring the view and asking yourself how you just managed to get up there. And there is nothing quite like the sense of achievement, or smugness, from having done an 8 mile off road run over hills and through fields, knowing that you have really earned that tea and cake (trail runs burn more calories than road running for anyone still needing encouragement).
You don’t need more gear really for off road running, although there is no doubt that a pair of off road shoes will give you more grip. They can be picked up quite cheaply now online or in sports equipment shops. If you’re apprehensive about getting lost or do not know any local routes, contact your local running club who will point you in the right direction.
Chippenham Sports Massage Therapist Advice
For more information or advice about trail running or to know more about my role as a Chippenham Sports Massage Therapist, please drop me a line.