This was the first in a series of running related articles for onlinesports.ie which was then posted on LinkedIn.
Running is a sport that I love. On and off road. Up mountains or along long sandy beaches. The great thing about it is that a plodder like me can enjoy the experience of a marathon race or short solo run in the woods every bit as much as a professional athlete. The ability to have fun no matter the time or result makes running a great sport for life. I hope you enjoy the article and I always like feedback and comments. Thanks for reading.
When it all gets a bit too "Same old same old".
Distance runners often reach the point where it becomes difficulty reach and then maintain high weekly mileage targets. Having developed to where they can now achieve forty, ninety or however many kilometres per week they find that the repetitive nature and the generally familiar and possibly not overly scenic environment of road running tends to produce a less than uplifting exercise experience. This can lead to a lack of enthusiasm and makes it easy to miss out sessions when the weather or other factors are against you. This along with a tendency to switch off the brain and zone out during exercise produces lower quality, more boring sessions. As well this the constant repetitive impact of flat road surfaces also makes it easier to fall prey to niggly little injuries caused by overstraining the same muscles and joints pace after pace, mile after mile.
My normal solution for boredom is to change things around and try something different but a lot of runners are training for a particular event and want to stay specific in their training. For those people and for anyone who wants to add a bit of adventure to the daily training grind I would highly recommend getting out of town and spending a few hours running on forest and mountain trails.
No switching off.
Running on dirty, uneven and stony ground has an awful lot going for it in any balanced training programme. The irregularity of the running surface means that the majority of people shorten their normal stride and constantly adjust the way the foot strikes the ground. This change in action makes your muscles act slightly differently with each step. It improves balance and it will tend to produce a more vertical, naturally relaxed upper body position. For most, this is a small part of becoming a stronger, less injury prone athlete.
Compared to the usual street session, when out on a trail you will be concentrating more on the ground ahead and what you may be about to step on. Or step in. The gradient may change without much warning and fallen trees or other obstacles have to be spotted before they can be negotiated. The whole experience is an awfully long way from plodding along on autopilot and it is invigorating to feel so “involved “in your run.
When starting out the best thing, as always is to remember to take it easy. Try a reasonably short trail not too far from civilisation. Get a few kilometres under your belt before venturing out into the back of beyond. If you are not too sure of your capability then try a short loop in a forest park somewhere and repeat the circuit if it felt easy enough the first time around.
Initially there is no great need for any extra, specialist equipment. A normal pair of road shoes will be fine. If you find that trail is becoming a regular part of your running routine or it is wet and muddy underfoot then invest in a pair of decent off road shoes. There are two main types. The first is a jack of all trades trail shoe. A bit more grip than you may be used to and torsionally less twisty. They will usually be more firmly cushioned underfoot than a typical road shoe and are designed to do a little bit of everything. They are soft enough for hard rocky trails, grip well enough on mucky ground and give enough protection to the foot for most conditions most of the time. These are the kind of shoes I would recommend anyone to buy first time out.
The other kind of off road shoe is the fell racing option. These tend to be very light, close to the ground, minimal footwear with extremely lugged sole units. They offer no support and limited protection for the foot but give exceptional grip in very muddy conditions. They are the Formula 1 of the trail world giving high end performance and not much durability. These shouldn’t be anyone’s first shoe for off road running in my opinion. The thin soles are harsh underfoot on hard trails and the lack of structure on rough, uneven ground can be disconcerting.
Apart from footwear there is very little extra equipment to think about. I prefer long sleeves and leggings when running through woodland in order to avoid scratches. On mountain runs a hat and light raincoat give elemental protection and during the winter months a headtorch is extremely handy especially in dark, heavily forested areas. You can add other items as you wish or if you feel that you were missing something last time out but don’t get too carried away with extra luggage. Trail running is definitely not about the gear.
If you are unsure of how to get going then these organisations may be helpful.
IMRA. Irish Mtn. Running Association. Organise events around the country including a very popular summer evening series of trail races. Website is; imra.ie
Mud sweat and runners. Offers lots of introductory trail running courses generally based around the Glendalough area. Website is; mudsweatandrunners.weebly.com
Outside of Ireland Fellrunner.org.uk organises and promotes hill running in Britain, the American trail running association (ATRA) does the same thing in the US and can be found at trailrunner.com. Other countries have similar bodies and private companies organise trips, races and training holidays.
Enjoy your run.