How to reduce the risk of tarmac shock during run training

We explain why training specificity is key to reducing the chances of picking up knee problems, and why off-road doesn't necessarily have to mean soft surfaces

Joe Beer in run training

Are you worried about picking up knee problems from running on hard surfaces? We explain what you can do to minimise the chances of injury and ensure your training stays on track all season long…


One of the golden rules of training is specificity. This simply means that, as much as possible, your training should reflect the demands of your sport. So in the same way as you should spend a decent amount of time on your race bike – something many triathletes neglect – you should also look to mimic the demands of the run course in training. If you’re going to be racing on a hilly course, run hills in training and if you know the surface is mostly tarmac, getting some runs in on the black stuff makes sense.

That said, for sprint and Olympic-distance racing, where the runs are relatively short, the degree of shock you’ll experience doing a one-off run on a harder surface won’t be that great. You might feel a little bit more sore the next day than your road-running clubmate, but it’ll be marginal.

For half and full Ironman events however, the time spent pounding the pavement could potentially add to your leg fatigue during the race if you’re not used to it. If you’re planning on going long this season, look to introduce road miles into your training gradually and build up the amount so that you’re doing some of your longer runs on the road before your target races.

But don’t forget that off-road doesn’t have to mean soft-road. There are plenty of other options like hard-packed dirt, rocky tracks and gravel fire roads that can be just as unforgiving as tarmac. If this describes the trails that you typically run on, you might not need to change a thing and you can carry on enjoying the great, traffic-free outdoors.

(Image: Jonny Gawler)


For lots more performance advice head to our Training section