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Training & advice

Go Green

The surface most likely to injure or damage a runner, through over-use, is concrete followed closely by the substance that our roads are made of - asphalt. We were not designed to run on such hard surfaces, so why run there? Why not get off the road and onto the grass or trails that offer a far more forgiving surface? Your legs and shoes will thank you for it so read on....

Softer surfaces mean that we don't need all of the cushioning that a road shoe offers because we get the cushioning from the surface itself. Trail shoes tend to be less structured and so allow the foot to move more naturally so that you can negotiate the less smooth surface with divets and obstacles and, although there is less of them than a road shoe, in terms of structure and cushioning, they tend to last longer because the shoe manufacturers concentrate their efforts on a more durable upper and robust outsole. The softer surface keeps them from getting worn down quickly so you may find that you don't have to purchase new shoes as often as you do when training on the road.

So that's what it does for your shoes. Now, what about your legs? The softer surface provides cushioning and resistance so that you have to work harder with every step and this means that you get a harder workout than you would if you went for a run on the road. You may think that this would mean a longer recovery afterwards but this is not necessarily the case. Often our bodies demand a longer recovery after a hard training session because of the dreaded Delayed Onset Muscle Fatigue (DOMS) but you get very little of this through off road running, unless you run hard down the hills. DOMS is caused by high-impact. This tears our muscle fibres, albeit in miniscule proportions, but the body then has to take time to mend these. We feel DOMS as soreness in the muscles but off-road running tends to be far less impactful so the tiredness we feel after a hard session off the road is more likely to be caused by not having shifted the waste products in the muscles and we tend to feel this more as stiffness rather than soreness. The good news about this is that you can help to shift this with a good cool down, static stretching, massage, keeping well hydrated and refuelling the body quickly after exercise.

So how practical is it for you to take your training off-road? If you can do your training during the day the chances are that you will have plenty of opportunity for off-road running and you should have the luxury of being able to put in some speed work. However, it is more challenging if you have to do your training in the dark. A couple of solutions to this could be:

  1. Running routes where you have grass available as well as lighting. Some roads are blessed with long stretches of grass verges that you may be able to take advantage of.
  2. Flood lit playing fields or playing fields that benefit from lighting on a road that runs next to them.
  3. Running with a head-torch. This can be great fun and provide an element of adventure.

If stretches of grass are hard to come by you may have to be a little more creative with your training sessions but one example of a good work out could be a session called "back to backs" or "turnarounds". To do this you only need an 80 - 100 metre stretch of grass:

After warming up, run hard and fast along the stretch for perhaps 20 seconds and then take a very short interval of maybe just 10 seconds to turn around before running hard back again. Your level of fitness will determine how many repetitions you do but you could also work this in "sets" for example:

Beginner - 2 sets of 4 turnabouts with a 20 second interval and 4 minutes between the sets

Intermediate - 3 sets of 6 turnabouts with a 15 second interval and 4 minutes between the sets

Advanced - 3 sets of 10 turnabouts with a 10 second interval and 3 minutes between the sets

This session will work your anaerobic lactate system and increase your body's tolerance towards the build up of acidosis in the muscle. Towards the end of each set you will have accumulated good levels of lactic acid in the muscles, because the short intervals don't give your body sufficient time to clear them. The longer recovery between the sets will start to the clearance process but you will still be starting the next set with a good level that you have to tolerate.

It is advisable to do all of the above with company for safety reasons.