Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Case for Trail Running

On the first day of my son’s soccer practice, I met another dad who is a big-time runner.  He had done several marathons at a pace I couldn’t think of holding for 26.2 miles. I have been looking forward to running with him since soccer practice ended.  Knowing that he was focused on the Philadelphia Marathon, I gave him a few weeks of recovery before calling him to go out for a run.  Since the weather was looking chilly, I thought a trail run would be a good idea.
With each footstep, I noticed that I was running 30 seconds to a minute slower per mile than his desired pace.  I pushed the pace trying to get, really angering the guys behind me. 
These guys are fast runners, even faster than I could run long distances, so why were the trails so difficult?
There are a few differences between running on trails and running on pavement.  Because of the varied terrain, certain running styles are better suited for running off-road.  These differences include:
  • Shorter stride
  • More side to side movement, both to a void obstacles and follow bends in the trail as well as to make micro adjustments for different surfaces
  • Increased activation of the core to provide stability
  • Land under center of mass which helps to avoid “over striding”
  • Rapid shifts in terrain mean more hills and more intensity
I frequently perform video gait analysis.  Some of the common elements of injured runners are a long stride with a foot strike way in front of the body, weakness in the pelvic stabilizer muscles and poor core strength.  By shortening the stride and throwing some lateral movements into the mix, trail running could be the answer to many running overuse injuries.  
Next time you lace up your sneakers, head out to the trails for an entirely new workout.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. Long distance running on flat surfaces leads to longer strides and weak hips. I need to get running on trails more.