Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Terrain Training: Tips for Running on Grass, Concrete, Mud and More

When training, we get to choose which terrain to run on. Oftentimes, it can be tempting to choose whichever terrain is the smoothest and flattest of our available options (i.e. our friendly concrete sidewalks). But when it comes to obstacle races, most cover a variety of terrain throughout the competition. In order to fully prepare for and enhance the potential for success, your training needs to mimic the potential terrains you will encounter during any race. So let’s break down potential terrains:

Grass has more shock absorbency than concrete or dirt, meaning that your feet take less of a pounding during your run. More shock absorbency also means less “bounce” while running, which means you won’t run as fast on grass compared to a more solid surface. Grass can be fun to run on, but it’s also important to watch out for holes or changes in terrain that can be hidden by the grass. A sprained, twisted or even broken ankle is a devastating injury around race time! 

Concrete is far-and-away the most common surface runners choose to train on. But remember that concrete, for all its accessibility, can have detrimental effects in the long-term. Extensive research shows that extended running on concrete surfaces can lead to serious issues which impede a runner’s ability to perform at the level they desire. The hardness of the surface provides repetitive, unforgiving shocks to the foot which can affect the entire body. While concrete is certainly a viable option for training, it should be balanced out with other terrains.

Dirt trails provide the happy middle between concrete and grass, providing just enough shock absorbency to reduce impact on the feet, while maintaining enough hardness to allow runners to keep pace. When you’re running a lot during training, it’s important to choose a surface that provides this level of “give” because long-term exposure to unforgiving surfaces will take a toll on bones, joints, tendons and muscles. Additionally, running on trails provides a way to interact with nature in an established way without having to worry about twisting ankles (dirt can’t hide holes the way grass can).

Finally, perhaps the most difficult “terrain” to run on (or in, for that matter) is mud.  Obviously, mud (like what you’ll encounter during our Down-n-Outs) is known to slow runners down tremendously.  What’s our best tip for running through mud?  Tie your shoes tight and use the power that your legs have to wade your way through murky water and slippery mud.  We recommend being cautious though—mud can trip you up pretty quickly and could lead to a mud run injury.  Be safe and have fun when it comes to running on (and through) mud—even when training! 

Training for a race, event or competition means more than running on the same surface every day until the big day arrives. Put a lot of thought into your training so you can not only preserve your body, but so you can also gain exposure to a variety of terrains. That way, you’ll be fully prepared for whatever comes your way!  

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