Build up Run Strength

Can’t face the monotony of pounding the pavements? Then, advises Nik Cook, escape the tarmac and hit the trails

Can’t face the monotony of pounding the pavements? Then, advises Nik Cook, escape the tarmac and hit the trails…
If you feel as though your run training is stagnating or niggling repetitive-strain injuries are an issue, getting off the streets could provide some much-needed revitalisation.
Various terrains offer distinct challenges. Mud and sand will force you to work harder, delivering an unbeatable running-specific strength workout and supercharging your legs. Hills tend to be more commonplace and significantly steeper than you’ll encounter on the road, again raising the intensity of the workout.
Slippery surfaces mean that you’ll be working your core stabiliser muscles that are able to switch off when you’re on the streets. Technical terrain, such as roots and rocks, will literally keep you on your toes, encouraging a more efficient forefoot-striking running technique and a fast, light cadence.
All of this will translate into stronger, faster and more efficient running when you do return to the roads. Along with all the performance benefits that off-road running can offer, it’ll also make you happier and healthier. You’ll be away from fume-spewing traffic and, without wishing to come over all tree-hugger, getting back in touch
with nature will give you a real mental lift.
The joy of being on the hills on a clear and frosty morning is hard to beat, and the child-like pleasure of getting absolutely covered in mud never loses its thrill. You’ll also be less prone to over-use injuries as every foot strike is completely different – unlike the repetitive thud of road running.
Although there’s a higher risk of acute injuries (such as twisted ankles), this can be greatly reduced by using appropriate footwear. You wouldn’t try mountain biking on your TT bike, but you’d be amazed how many people try off-road running in their heavily cushioned and grip-free road shoes.
True off-road running shoes are stripped down and lightweight with super-aggressive soles. Your foot is held close to the ground to maximise stability and prevent those ankle rolls. Low levels of cushioning let your foot ‘feel’ the trail, giving crucial traction and directional feedback, while a studded, sticky rubber sole grips no matter how filthy the conditions underfoot.
You’ll be in more remote locations where, especially in the hills, the conditions can rapidly deteriorate, so it’s important to carry a few bits of kit. Hat, gloves and a waterproof jacket with a hood weigh next to nothing and can be lifesavers.
An energy bar or a few Jelly Babies will keep you moving if you’re out longer than expected, while a foil space blanket will keep you warm and protected from the wind if you have a problem. A whistle should be carried to signal for help and, if you’re in an area you don’t know, having (and being able to use) a map and compass is essential. It’s also a good idea to carry a mobile phone – but don’t rely on getting a signal.
All of this kit can easily be carried in a bumbag or small rucksack. Finally, let someone know where you’re planning on going and how long you intend to be out for.