An Introduction: Strength Coach, Patrick Warnholtz
August 3, 2016
Strength Training for Endurance Sports
July 30, 2015
Breathing. The Forgotten Piece of Endurance Training
January 16, 2017
Trail Running for the Road Runner
December 17, 2014
Road running and trail running are often regarded as two different worlds. Road runners are often afraid or unwilling to do trail running, while trail runners are often bored with road running. However, both have their merits and both can compliment each other very well. Trail runners can use road running to dial in their form and improve general endurance, but road runners that use trail running in their training see more advantages. Here are a few ways that trail running will help improve your performance on the road:
1. Stronger Legs, Faster Times
Trail running has different demands on your body than road running. For instance, trails are typically rollercoasters of ups and downs and side to sides. While it is very easy to fall into a rhythm and zone out while road running, the ever-changing terrain of a trail keeps a runner constantly engaged and having to change directions and employ different muscles. Constantly changing from flat to uphill to downhill back to uphill and back to flat stresses your muscles more and makes you stronger. While you are most likely slower on trails than you are on the road, the strength you gain translates to faster times on the road. Who doesn’t want that?
2. Better Stability, Less Injury
This is a tricky point to make because trail running is inherently riskier than road running in terms of possible injury. Rocky trails or forest trails with pesky roots sticking up can easily cause you to trip or roll an ankle, so trail running automatically requires more careful strides and constant attention to the terrain. At the same time, road running injuries are often caused by repetitive stresses that come from constant, similar motions. So once you have mastered the art of paying attention to where you’re stepping and are able to avoid rocks and roots and other obstacles, the advantages of a constantly changing terrain will become clearer.
As mentioned in point one, trail running requires constant changes of direction. Trails are rarely flat and straight and there is much more lateral (side-to-side) movement. This strengthens muscles in your legs that improve the stability of your hip, knee, and ankle joints. That stability is instrumental in helping a runner avoid over-use injuries or injuries caused by repetitive stresses that are common in road runners.
3. Hills? What hills?
A road runner’s nemesis is often the hill. Trail runners, however, eat hills for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner. It is rare to find trails that don’t include some, if not an excessive amount of climbing. When a trail runner encounters a hill on a road, they are often unfazed and able to easily jaunt their way to the top. A road runner who can learn to tackle hills on the trails will find that road hills become less and less intimidating. Becoming king (or queen) of hills will also help a runner become faster on flat courses (see point number one).
4. Better Running Form
Running form or technique is grossly overlooked and a lack of it is often the cause of running injuries or an inability to increase mileage over a certain number due to pain. For a variety of reasons, most people tend to run with a heavy, loping stride and they land hard on the heel. Both of these cause an enormous amount of stress on a runner’s leg joints and can, in turn, cause injuries such as shin splints, knee pain, hip tightness, and even stress fractures.
However, the nature of trail running does not allow runners to over-stride and land very heavily. In trail running, each stride may differ in length because the ideal place to place your foot may not always be where you would normally step. This usually causes your strides to shorten and become quicker. Also, the constantly changing terrain, occasionally uncertain footing, and constant change in direction require and often cause a lighter, more mid-foot strike.
Both the quicker, shorter strides, and the lighter, more mid-foot strikes, are key elements to good running form. Trail running often forces these kinds of changes in running form and when translated to road running, can help avoid injuries and develop a more efficient running stride.
5. Better Scenery
Besides helping with running form, strength, and stability, trail running is often times, much more scenic than road running and can make for a more enjoyable experience. If you are a trail runner, you may recognize many of these advantages. If you a road runner, trail running may be a very useful tool for improving your times. So get out there, explore, improve, and train happy!