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 trail running less damaging, more effective?
Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

trail running less damaging, more effective? Posted: Wed May 17, 2006 10:02 am 

Road Runner Sports sent me this article about the merits of trail running. Their claim is that running on trails is not just easier on your body, but it's also simply a better training stimulus that will lead to quicker improvements. That's an interesting claim, although they don't really back it up with anything but anecdotes.

My favorite quote: "85% of the runners who do the trail trains we suggest come within 15 minutes of their goal, while only 50% of those who just do the road runs come within a half hour of their goal time. Those doing the trail running have been infinitely more successful." I'm pretty sure that counts as fuzzy math.

What do you think? Is running the trails a more effective way to train?

Here's the original article: Put Some Adventure Back in Your Run & Stay Injury Free


mfox

South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: trail running less damaging, more effective? Posted: Wed May 17, 2006 9:58 pm 

I think running trails definitely provides a good training stimulus. Though I wouldn't suggest you do more than half of your weekly runs on trails (unless that's the only surface you'll be racing on). It's difficutl, and dangerous, to try to do speed work on trails just because of the risk of tripping and falling, twisting an ankle, or stepping wrong on a rock or stone.

I feel that the trail running I do has helped me improve my balance not to mention my ankle and leg strength. The trails on run are very rocky and hilly in many places. I will occasional turn my ankle (even when running on the road) but I've never hurt my ankle and I'm able to keep my stride and keep running like nothing happened. A few times I've let out a heavy sigh only because I realize how severely I just turned my ankle and could have seriously injured it...but it's fine and I keep on going without even a twinge of pain. I attribute this to the amount of trail running I've done (1-2 times a week for months at a time).

So, it's made my legs and ankles stronger. And maybe it's responsible for me being a better hill climber in races. But I'm not sure it's contributed a whole lot to my over all speed or endurance for long distance running.

My take on this is that you should try to incorporate some trail running into your schedule. It can only help. But be careful. The more technical the trail the easier you need to run so you don't injure yourself. I avoid long strides or trying to leap over logs or streams. Instead I keep my stride short so that I stay over my center of gravity and can better react to the ground shifting under my feet. And it allows me to change direction more quickly as I have to switch from one side of the trail to the other to avoid rocks or ditches caused by run-off errosion.


Rustyboy

LA, CA
Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 225

Re: trail running less damaging, more effective? Posted: Thu May 18, 2006 10:11 am 

As you know, I'm a huge apologist for trails. I've been running my long runs on them for about 1 1/2 years, and - time permitting - hitting them 1-2 times/week for shorter runs.

I definitely feel the difference in my body when I run 10 + miles on pavement versus that distance on trails, which is a no-brainer, but also my mental state is completely different. Example: Last Saturday, I ran 3 hours on a trail in the mountains by my house. Save for a handful of mountain bikers and hikers, I saw absolutely no one, and the only "non natural" sound I heard were airplanes flying overhead. I find it incredibly Zen and it really clears the cache from the 6 others days jam-packed with computers/cell phones/television/traffic/work.

I also feel, like mfox said, that my balance and ankle strength is further advanced than if I'd only run pavement, as is my mental focus from running technical, rocky, rooty runs.

Damn, now I'm itchin to get out there!


Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: trail running less damaging, more effective? Posted: Thu May 18, 2006 1:05 pm 

Those are good points. I guess it's hard to imagine how trail running could really be any worse for training than road running, other than the danger of tripping on a pothole, or maybe the difficulty of maintaining a consistent pace. But the softer surface is an obvious win, the occasion hill probably helps build strength, and the tricky footing helps improve balance and foot/ankle strength.

I've been trying to seek out trails as much as possible lately, or at least run in the dirt to the side of the paved path where I can. There are a few nice trails within running distance of my house, but unfortunately they're all pretty darn hilly. In fact that's the only reason they exist: the steepest canyons where it was too difficult to build anything got turned into parks. Everything that's a more reasonable grade got paved over and turned into strip malls and donut shops.


terrysquier

Canon City, CO
Joined: 09 Jan 2005
Posts: 44

Re: trail running less damaging, more effective? Posted: Mon May 29, 2006 6:24 am 

I'm not sure about providing a better training stimulus, but they're a lot easier on the feet and certainly a lot more fun, at least for me. As I stated before, I'm a pretty slow runner, anyway, so it would be hard for me to make any kind of an informed decision on the matter. Perhaps if I had a general plan that included a lot of trail runs, I could compare it to my races in the past where I did mostly road running. But I'm not really a "plan" guy and am more likely to run based on how I feel for a particular day. Trail runs are more of a diversion and challenge for me and a chance to explore new territory. Of course, here in Colorado, there are a lot of trails to choose from and a lot of them are quite challenging because of altitude and steepness, so I end up doing a lot of walking and not real running.

Terry


Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: trail running less damaging, more effective? Posted: Mon May 29, 2006 12:20 pm 

terrysquier wrote:
Trail runs are more of a diversion and challenge for me and a chance to explore new territory.

I think you nailed it right there. Anything that helps keep you interested and engaged in running has got to be good. Running the same 3 mile route around your neighborhood streets day after day can get old fast. I think the original article was also hypothesizing that trail running is better race preparation than road running, because it typically involves a lot more hills, and is therefore kind of a strength workout along with an aerobic workout.


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