8 ways trail running can improve your road times
You’re a road runner through and through. But going off road has its plus points. See how trail running can produce results back on the road.
1. You build up stamina (and put less stress on your body)
It’s good to mix up running on hard tarmac with going out on softer trails. The spongier ground depresses slightly as your foot lands on the ground, meaning less force is transferred up your leg. The reduced intensity means you can run for longer and build up endurance for the road.
2. It makes your recovery runs more effective
You can get more from your recovery runs by going out for longer on soft, flat trails. Even easy trail routes slow you down, which is great if you’re looking to run at a more relaxed pace but still want a challenge.
3. It makes you stronger
Trail running often means taking on mud, as a little bit of rain can turn soft trails into sludge. Because your foot sinks into the mud, it’s harder to push off, so your leg is getting a tougher workout. It’s the same if you run on sand. The key is getting your planted foot off the ground as fast as possible. The less time it’s on the ground, the less chance it has to settle in the mud and the easier it is to lift off.
4. It improves core stability and balance
Windy, technical routes force you to think about your running much more than on the road. Keeping your speed up around bends, U-turns and downhills improves your core stability and balance. You engage your core muscles in your abs and back and become stronger as a result. Once you go back to the road, you’ll find your posture is improved and that crucial link between your upper body and lower body is stronger.
5. Downhills help you become a more efficient runner
Going downhill at speed encourages a higher leg turnover, where your feet are in contact with the ground for the shortest period of time. Getting through the gait cycle at such a high rate improves your running style, and you’ll see the results back on the road.
6. It makes paved hills look like nothing
Trail running can throw up hills that are unlike anything you’ll see on the roads. After all, cars don’t have to make it up off-road paths, so they can range from very steep to almost vertical.
You’re fighting against gravity with every stride, so your legs have to do much more work. You’ll feel the burn in your quads and calf muscles, and feel much stronger once you go back to the road.
7. It connects mind and body
Running off road makes you think about your running much more deeply. You always have to think a few steps ahead on technical trails, planning your next move carefully. You’ll also need to listen to your body and respond to changes in terrain. Changes in pace and the ground means you can’t daydream, so you’re much more involved in your running. This attention to detail is a great skill to transfer to the road.
8. It’s a bit of an escape
Road running may be your chosen style and the one where you race competitively. But many elite marathon runners turn to the trails as a way of resetting their minds and getting away from busier roads.