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Hit the Trail
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Coach Steve being aero!

HIT THE TRAIL: Running is tough on the legs, so any way you can reduce stress on your muscles, tendons, and joints is a good thing. The first few years of my run training were all on the road, then I noticed most of the serious long-term runners did a lot of their training off-pavement. I tried it, and at first I was quite uncomfortable and out of my element running on dirt. The predictability of footing was gone; I had to think about where my next foot plant would be; sometimes I was a little slower on dirt. The transformation took a while, but now I really don't want to run on the pavement at all.

There's a small group of Kenyan runners that live in this neighborhood for part of the year. They run twice a day with a hard workout in the morning and very easy recovery jog in the afternoon. I've never seen them run on pavement in training—ever.

When you get off the pavement most surfaces have some shock absorbing potential and that's a very good thing. My legs feel less beat up after a trail run. I find the time goes by faster running off-road as my mind stays occupied looking for obstacles to avoid, assessing footing, even checking-out the scenery. Trail runs improve my form with more leg lift. I'm away from cars and exhaust; prairie dogs squeak as I go by. I notice things I never would running on the road.

There was a time when I was fearless trail runner. I'd run in the woods over rocky, root-covered trails, but an occasional twisted ankle made me think twice about where I run. Now after a half-dozen sprained ankles I'm very cautious. For me it's not as much about terrain as it is concentration. Every time I've had an accident it was at a moment my mind was drifting off, not focused on the task; all it takes is a second of inattention.

Now I look for more predictable footing: dirt roads, dirt paths, grass (with no hidden holes), even the hard-packed low-tide sand of a beach when I can get it.

Supportive run shoes are important for your off-road training. Footwear choice depends upon how uneven the surface is, and flexible, unstable shoes can be risky. If the surface is soft you may not need (or want) as much cushioning for your run shoe. Run shoes with less height are less likely to tip on uneven surfaces.

Tracks with an artificial rubber surface serve the same purpose in reducing impact stress on your joints, though multiple laps can get boring unless you have a structured workout planned. Treadmills can reduce stress, but also have a definite downside. More about that in another article...

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