Joe Beer running off-road
Training > Run

Beginner’s guide to off-road running

We look at why running on rough surfaces can trigger many training gains for triathletes, and how to make the most of it

Running on different surfaces over varied routes can reap big rewards when it comes to your performance. 

Firstly, after a season of training on tarmac, running tracks or against a GPS pacer, you’ll probably want to mix things up and add a little excitement to your off-season training.

Secondly, your usual routes, while functional, will have by now become habitual – they get you from A-to-B as you make all the necessary efforts but you’ll have covered them so many times you can do them without thinking.

But now, in the beginning of the off-season, you can be more open-minded about your run training and have some fun with it. But if your competitive fires are still burning, there’s a whole world of multi-terrain events from cross-country (XC) races to adventure runs to take part in over the winter months.

Joe Beer running off-road

Economy and equipment

Running on new and varied terrain places different demands on your muscles and brain. Every stride you take is different when you’re running on unpredictable surfaces so you need a greater awareness of your foot placement.

You’ll also have to alter your posture to keep your balance as you react to the changes in grip, camber and incline. Your legs, arms, breathing and posture all have to work in sync otherwise you increase your risk of, at worst, falling and injuring yourself, or, at best, ruining your run efficiency and causing your heart rate to skyrocket.  

Off-road running places greater demands on your body than running on a track or treadmill does, but it also teaches you to be more efficient and move with more economy. Running on varied surfaces requires more rugged shoes but you don’t need to spend a fortune.

If the shoe can handle the demands of the terrain and keep your feet stable without overly affecting your running style, that’s all you need. Beyond your shoes there are a few more things to consider when you’re gearing up to go off road, check out Essential Equipment on the following page.

Joe Beer running up a hill

Refresh your routine

Don’t make the mistake of thinking off-road running is only for those with fields and fells right outside their front doors. Whatever gets you out and running on something that isn’t your normal route is good enough – all we’re looking for right now is a change from your usual routine, not a whole-scale reorganisation of your run training. 

If you don’t have any rough terrain nearby, consider using the cross-trainer machine in the gym, running round your local football pitch in the park, deep-water running at the pool, or jogging while you walk the dog or take the baby out in the pram. Anything that involves running but that isn’t your typical run session will do.

Running on tarmac or pavements exclusively can lead to injury – it’s no coincidence that many elite runners favour training on softer surfaces before carefully transitioning to the road. Yet legions of amateur runners or triathletes just pound the pavements believing all miles are the same. 

So use your off-season to give your body a break from the repeated impact and rethink your running, your routes and your training regime. Doing so will not only keep you motivated but also increase your chances of staying injury-free and ready for the demands of triathlon running next season.

Joe Beer running off-road

(Images: Jonny Gawler)

To read Joe's technique advice on climbing and descending off-road click here


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