Town or country?

Why trail training and road running can both really help your performance

Alert. Scanning the horizon for possible danger; iPod on. Her kit screams of the latest trends. She’s an urban fox and when she runs she’s ready to stop, change direction and avoid all incoming obstacles at the blink of an eye. Then there’s her twin sister; she prefers to let her heart swell to the slower beat of the country. She’s most at home when covered in mud, there’s not a car or house in sight and her only company is Mother Nature.

Most of us fall into one of these categories; Sarah Rowell has considerable experience of both. She was a 2:28 marathon runner, who competed for Great Britain in the 1984 Olympics, and is the author of Trail and Mountain Running.

‘These days I prefer running off-road, though on trails which still allow me to run fast, as these tend to be in more pleasant surroundings and are easier on my joints,’ Sarah says.

‘Running on roads has the benefit of removing everything but running, and allows you to hold a set pace and not worry about having to get round or through obstacles,’ explains Sarah. ‘For timed or hard sessions which are measurable then road is best, especially if you are training for a race on this surface.’

As many of us know, off-road running can be much more unpredictable. ‘Unless you are on decent trails (like a canal bank) it’s harder to get into a solid rhythm and hold it, there is more frequent stopping and starting and you need to be able to quickly change your foot pattern as you go,’ she says. ‘The surface will also be more affected by the weather. However, trails are a more forgiving surface and the changing nature of the surface will help develop your proprioceptive skills.’

SAFETY FIRST
Danielle Hastings, 28, has run 44 marathons despite suffering from a chronic heart condition. She’s been blogging as the T-Rex Runner (www.trexrunner.com) since 2011, and believes personal safety is paramount wherever you run.

‘As a woman who lives in a rural area, frequently runs alone, and has several chronic medical conditions, one of my biggest fears is having a medical emergency while out running,’ she says. ‘Carrying identification is important, but first responders also need to know about your medical history. I always wear my ICEdot Band (www.2pure.co.uk) when running, which includes my medical information and a list of emergency contacts.’

Danielle believes one of the best ways to keep yourself safe while running alone in either city or country is to tell someone your route and your expected time of return.

‘If no one knows where you are, they won’t be able to find you,’ says Danielle. ‘Emergency identification products are also helpful. Try to stick to more populated areas and avoid running in the dark or past secluded or wooded areas. If you’re new to an area, contact your local running store and ask for a safe place to run where there is little risk of getting lost. The more alert and focused you can be, the better.’

FEELING THE IMPACT
But just because the trails tend to be softer underfoot doesn’t mean they’re risk-free. ‘Running in the countryside has such wonderful benefits, but it can have pitfalls too,’ advises injury rehabilitation coach Craig Carroll (www. theinjurycoach.co.uk). ‘Running on boggy, softer and more pliable surfaces uses more energy. When your foot comes in contact with the ground, your muscles load; on softer surfaces your muscles load slightly longer than on harder surfaces,’ says Craig, who specialises in exercise and movement therapy.

And then there’s the kit. Trail shoes, compared to road shoes, have more tread on the bottom due to the grip needed to pull the ground from underneath to create a fluid running motion. This more uneven, softer surface can also be hazardous when it comes to foot placement. You have to be more aware of where you are going to place your next step.

‘If you are training for a particular event on a road, if you want to get quicker or you want to do some high interval sprints for weight-loss then running on concrete or asphalt may be a better solution,’ suggests Craig.

‘I am not anti country running! Running in the country can be more pleasing to the eye, but also to your lungs. In the countryside or on trails the quality of air going into your lungs is better than the smog that you get from running in the “Big Smoke”. Running in the country, although harder under foot, is also great training for mobility as the unstable surface can benefit the strength of the foot and ankle. You will also gain the satisfaction of headspace and a more relaxed, slower paced joint- forgiving run.’

Which type of running is best? Apparently, either. ‘I still enjoy a weekly road blast and I would urge all runners (unless there is a known injury potential risk) to combine the two,’ suggests Sarah Rowell.

‘Off-road runners will benefit speed wise from a regular on road run. On road runners will benefit from the stress reduction and activation effects of some off-road running – plus it tends to be in quality surroundings.’

COUNTRYSIDE RUNNING:
PROS
Much softer and easier landing
Better training for improved foot mobility
Superior air quality; less pollution, and increased lung function

CONS
Uses more energy
Likely to cause more strains due to uneven landing surface
Variation of ground under foot could be hazardous and cause injury

ROAD AND CITY RUNNING:
PROS
Much quicker surface to run on
The best surface for muscles and tendons to load more efficiently
Fairly similar surfaces, which helps with good form control

CONS
Impact can be harmful to joints
Stop/start nature of the city means you often have to run slower
Pot holes and trip hazards, as well as dealing with commuters

COUNTRY RUNNER
SARAH-JANE RESTALL IS TRAINING FOR THE MIGHT CONTAIN NUTS WYE VALLEY 50 MILE ULTRA AND SNOWDON MARATHON. SHE IS STUDYING FOR A FULL-TIME DEGREE, HAS FOUR CHILDREN AND LIVES IN ABERGAVENNY, WALES.
‘Running for me isn’t about pounding the road or PBs. I run the fells, trails and canals for the fresh air and amazing views. I always discover something new; maybe it’s a sunrise, extreme weather conditions or a newly born fawn. I may be a hippy at heart but running in the mountains gets me back to our roots, especially in my minimalist shoes where I really feel part of the trail. You always have to be self sufficient and prepared for an emergency which adds to the adventure. I am a happy dappy trail runner and proud!’

CITY RUNNER
LOUISE BRECKON-RICHARDS, ACTRESS AND PLAYWRIGHT, AND MUM OF TWO, LIVES IN WOOD GREEN, NORTH LONDON. FOR HER, RUNNING IN LONDON IS A PLEASURE AS IT’S A CONVENIENT WAY OF GETTING AROUND.
‘On a clear day, running round Alexandra Palace, you can see as far as the Olympic Park. You can “run to the view” for 30 minutes then cool down on the descent. I can be running along a tow path but only minutes from shops, cafes or banks for when I need to get chores done. On my long run while training for the Virgin Money London Marathon I ran through Highgate woods, Regents Park and Finsbury Park; each area was unique.’


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