On a typical off-road run you might find yourself crossing fields, climbing over stiles, leaping over tree roots, scrambling up steep hills and negotiating uneven paths through the woods. This is different to the type of running we do over the winter months and can sometimes be daunting to beginners. Here are a few things to bear in mind that might help with off-road training sessions.
What are the benefits of running off-road?
Running a lot of miles on concrete involves high impact on the body and is hard on the legs. Running on softer surfaces means that runners are able to cushion that impact with a little less wear and tear on the muscles, bones and joints.
Running off-road forces a variation in stride length and directional movement to avoid obstacles and maintain traction. Some experts believe that such variations improve stride efficiency as the brain learns new ways to engage the muscles.
Running off-road automatically slows you down, which means you can recover from hard training runs and focus more on how your body feels rather than maintaining a fast pace. This type of ‘active recovery’ is an integral part of any training programme. It improves muscle memory, builds the aerobic system, enhances muscular endurance and allows the body to recover more effectively.
If you try running at the same pace off-road as you would on the road, the effort required is greater because of the extra resistance provided by softer terrain. With this in mind, you could run at a slightly slower pace but still get the same benefits as a faster run completed on the road.
A variation in terrain means the body recruits more muscle fibres and becomes more agile in moving in multiple directions. It will build endurance and make you a stronger runner. Running on uneven ground also means burning more calories than running the equivalent distance on even surfaces.
Remember these key points for running off-road…
Keep your eyes open!
There’s no point being able to see the hill in the distance when you don’t spot the low-hanging branch sticking out 10 feet in front of you. Keep your eyes focused roughly six strides ahead. This will enable you to see any potential obstacles, negotiate tricky terrain and choose the safest way forward.
Pick up your feet!
During the summer months, Hilary can often be heard shouting the phrase “pick your piggies up”. If you are a natural shuffler, you will really need to make a conscious effort to pick up your feet, or you might just end up picking yourself up off the floor.
Balance is key…
Twisted ankles and knees are uncommon in road running, but become more of a risk when running off road. To minimise risk you will need to work on your proprioception (balance and body awareness). You can do this by balancing on both feet on a wobble board for 4 x 30 seconds or simply by balancing on one foot for 2 x 30 seconds on each foot. Doing balance exercises on one leg is great preparation for adding more stability in the ankle area. A strong core is also beneficial for helping you to roll with the punches of off-road running. Run from your core, not from your legs and focus on engaging your core with each step. It will help to stabilise your body, which becomes even more important over varied terrain. Doing the plank and other core exercises is a great way of strengthening the area and is excellent preparation for off-road running.
Don’t try and match the pace you run when running on a flat or even surface. Be sensible and embrace the slower speed, because what you lose in speed, you will more than make up for in strengthening of major muscles, your core and ankles.
Lastly, enjoy and have fun! The summer months mean you will challenge yourself with a different kind of running, as well as getting the chance to take in some beautiful local scenery and discover parts of Horsforth you might not have known existed!
Main image courtesy of Andy Wicks