Sure Footed

Tweak your technique, pace and kit to suit the surface you're running on, says Hazel Sillver

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ROADS
In the city, it’s hard to avoid running on roads, tarmac tracks and pavements. In an ideal world we would all run off-road because it is less stressful for our joints – each time we land, the impact of pounding the pavement sends a jolt through our limbs, which can negatively affect any weak areas, such as knees or hips. But injury can be avoided by wearing a shoe that has sufficient cushioning to absorb the impact of each landing. A trail shoe is unsuitable for road runners – it has a deep grip, which is unnecessary on pavements, and minimal cushioning, exposing your body to too much impact. Invest in a good quality pair of road running shoes (which will usually set you back £80-120) and replace them regularly (at least once a year, if not sooner).
Poise and technique are also important, says Brighton-based running coach Joe Addison (addison-personaltrainer-brighton.co.uk): ‘It’s important to stay relaxed, because being too tense can lead to early fatigue and possibly injury. Flexibility is also key, as a poor range of motion is again a recipe for injury. Keep your cadence (foot turnover) high and stride short so as not to land the foot too far ahead of you and reduce the impact of landing. Heavily cushioned shoes can hide those impacts (and the problems they can cause).’

UPHILL
‘Don’t let your back hunch over when you are running uphill as it puts strain through the spine and can cause back pain,’ says London-based physiotherapist Lucy Macdonald (octopusclinic.com). ‘Instead, lean forwards from the hip joints, which are at your groin.’
In order to preserve energy, try also to take short strides when running up a slope, rather than long, lunging ones, which will tire you. Keeping this quick, short stride up, even if you’re going very slowly, will help you maintain momentum.
However, once you run out of ‘oomph’ or the hill becomes too steep to run, you can try what Peak District-based fell running coach Dave Taylor (fellrunningguide.co.uk) calls the ‘fell race walk’: ‘Adopt a long stride, in which you bend your body forwards into the hill from the waist and have your hands on your lower thighs (just above the knee caps) to aid momentum up the hill. Sometimes it’s good to switch between running and this walking technique, for example, run 100m and walk 100m.’
It goes without saying that a shoe with good grip is essential for hill runners. A road shoe, which lacks the teeth of a trail shoe, will put you at risk of injury by slipping. Choose a reliable fell shoe, such as the Salomon Fellraiser (£90, salomon.com) that will lock you to the ground, even on muddy, slippery slopes.

DOWN SLOPE
Running downhill puts a lot of strain on the joints, especially if the downhill is prolonged (for example in a fell race) or if technique is poor. ‘Lean forwards and take short strides, landing on the mid-foot, when you run downhill,’ advises Dave Taylor. ‘Leaning backwards, landing on the heel and taking a long stride means a lot of impact is going through your feet, in to your joints, and tiring your muscles. Hold your arms out at your sides for balance and momentum. Move your arms, windmilling them about – it might look silly, but it’s a counter balance and it will keep you upright and stable!’
Approach downhill running gradually if you’re not used to it and over time, the core muscles that give us control, strength and balance will build. Downhill running can be especially taxing on weak knees and if yours are not the strongest, it’s a good idea to walk down at least some of the slope until your knee strength improves – in fact walking backwards down a slope can give the knees a lot of relief.
A lightweight trail shoe with deep grip and good flexibility, such as the Adidas Adistar Raven 3 (£105, adidas.co.uk) is vital when running downhill.

PACKED SAND
It’s a joy to jog alongside the ocean and, if approached gently and gradually, running on sand can build ankle and heel strength, as well as helping injuries. Top ultra runner Scott Jurek healed his plantar fasciitis (an injury known commonly as ‘jogger’s heel’) by running on sandy beaches. If you’re new to beach running, it’s advisable to start with the packed solid sand close to the water’s edge. Running on the soft stuff further up the beach too soon can put too much strain on your Achilles tendons, ankles and calves.
Joe Addison recommends approaching beach running in short bursts, rather than launching into long runs straight away: ‘Running on sand is challenging, as you need to really power through the knees to drive the legs backwards,’ he says. ‘This builds strength, but it’s difficult to stay relaxed amid such a powerful motion, so shorter durations of runs are best.
I personally wouldn’t recommend running on pebble beaches, as the stones are too unstable and could cause injury.’
Always run in shoes, even though it’s so tempting to jog along a sandy beach barefoot! You don’t need a shoe with a lot of cushioning, but keep your heels, ankles and upper joints protected by wearing something such as the Inov-8 Race Ultra 270 (£110, inov-8.com).

SOFT SAND
Once you’ve strengthened your beach-running muscles and ligaments on packed sand, have a go on the softer stuff. Dunes, for example, will really test and boost your fitness – with short sessions being best at first. The immense give underfoot means that your core muscles – controlling your balance and coordination – as well as your legs and glutes, will be tested to the max.
Invest in a pair of running shoes that come with detachable gaiters – again, the Inov-8 Race Ultra 270 is a good choice – so that sand is not creeping into your shoes. Keep your posture upright, leaning forward into the dune from your hips. Your feet will sink into the soft sand so don’t even try to run up a dune quickly! Take very slow steps, giving your feet time to compact the sand enough to be able to push off again.

MUD
If you’re not used to mud or if it’s particularly slippery, approach a muddy trail path with care and by slowing your pace. Wear a shoe that has good grip and lightweight flexibility, such as the Inov-8 X-Talon 212 (£95, inov-8.com), and land on the front to mid section of the foot to protect your ankles and maintain good balance and coordination.
‘When running on wet and muddy surfaces, even more emphasis should be placed on shorter stride and higher cadence,’ advises Joe Addison, ‘so that as much as possible, you avoid slipping and twisting an ankle.’

If you run on muddy trails regularly, you can boost your performance and speed on them by warming up well – focus especially on warming up your ankles by doing lots of rotations to loosen them. You could also cross-train by doing some quad and hamstring work to ensure you have the power to lift yourself out of thick mud as you run.

OBSTACLES
If the off-road paths you train upon are littered with loose stones, boulders, tree roots or even four-legged running friends, learn to dodge what comes your way!

Firstly, invest in a trail shoe that has excellent grip to allow you to stop and switch direction at speed. It’s also vital to relax – tensing up on uneven, stony ground will drain your energy reserves and put you at greater risk of injury. If you fall with tension, you’re more likely to hurt yourself. When you encounter a lot of obstacles on the trails, it’s helpful to shorten your stride considerably to ensure you stay balanced and able to change direction at pace.

TREADMILL
The cushioned surface of a treadmill helps to prevent injuries, but in the often competitive, charged atmosphere of a gym, it’s tempting to go too quickly, so go at a pace that suits your fitness level. If you can’t focus on a conversation while you’re running, it’s likely you’re going too fast!
Run with your arms close to your body, lean forwards from the hips with your feet landing about hip distance apart and on the mid-foot, with a short stride. Shoe choice shouldn’t be a problem – the forgiving surface means most running shoes will work on a treadmill.
Always remember that substituting a treadmill for solid surfaces will mean you miss out on calf and ankle strength. Try to work some off-road running into your training regime to ensure you’re working the key running muscles and ligaments that the treadmill won’t boost.

GRASS

Runner - running shoes closeup

Runner – running shoes closeup

Anybody with a low fitness level or an injury is best off running on even grass. This is the least taxing surface for your joints, but obviously be aware that grass can become slippery and muddy in bad weather, therefore it’s best to wear a trail shoe with good grip, such as the Brooks PureGrit (£80, brooksrunning.co.uk).

Run with a relaxed, upright posture, leaning forwards from the hips (imagine a broom extending down your spine that tips forwards). Keep your arms close to your body with soft armpits; and land on your mid-foot with a short stride that lands at about hip distance or slightly wider.

 

ATHLETICS TRACK
A little sprint training or fast interval work on your local athletics track is fun and boosts strength and stamina. ‘Approach sprint work very gradually,’ warns Brighton-based sprint coach Dan Brooker. ‘Do very short sprints to begin with – 20m, rather than 100m, because it takes the body a while to build up the strength required to sprint. Posture should be upright with a straight back and eyes ahead, looking down the track. Arms chop away at your sides, with your hands flat, but relaxed.’


Make sure you are as relaxed as possible before each sprint so that you reduce your chances of pulling a muscle. ‘Sprinting is great for fitness, if you take it easy,’ says Dan. ‘The high leg lifts work the hamstrings and glutes in a way that regular running doesn’t, so adding a bit of sprint work in to your regular training regime will boost your performance in long-distance running.’
If you are going to be doing sprint training regularly, invest in a pair of spikes (try runandbecome.com).


Jenny Bozon

Written by Jenny Bozon | 296 articles | View profile

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