Too Much Trail Running Can Derail Your Road Marathon Goals
Getting back to nature is not all positive, there are some drawbacks and risks. First of all, marathon training requires very specific pacing work that may be simulated on trails, but the physiological demands will differ versus racing on roads. The differences will vary depending on the trail’s topography or the quality of the surface. To develop the proper marathon pacing, a majority of your training should be executed on the same surfaces and similar terrain to that of the target competition. Because pacing is vital to a successful marathon, the final third of the marathon training plan (typically three-to-five weeks out from the race), should be on roads with similar topography to the goal event. This makes trail running more suited to the base training or strength phase and during an occasional aerobic training session.
The possible risks associated with trail running can be easily mitigated with a purposefully designed training plan.A second drawback is the risk involved with trail running. Hiking trails other than rails-to-trails incorporate inclines and elevation changes that no civil engineer would plan for a city street. Extreme ascents and descents pose injury risks and require proper focus and timing within the training plan. Soft tissue injuries are also more common on softer surfaces versus road running where bone injuries are more common. This is partly due to the body’s natural process of adjusting leg tension during each leg strike to the surface stiffness. The ligaments and tendons adjust their tension, acting like springs based on feedback from the previous steps. This enables the body to adapt equally well to hard roads or soft and unstable trails.
With no clear answer as to which surface is ideal for training every day, moderation is recommended to minimize either the risk of soft tissue or bone related injuries. Fortunately, the possible risks associated with trail running can be easily mitigated with a purposefully designed training plan, and marathoners can successfully prepare for their goal performance.
When properly applied, trail running can be a productive component of any marathon training plan, contributing to competitive success and goal attainment. Running on trails can provide the ideal training environment necessary to build strength and accommodate tempo training. Trails are ideal environments to fine tune mental skills and relieve the stress of chaotic urban environments. Always consult an experienced coach to set up your marathon training plan and effectively implement trail running sessions to have a successful marathon.
- Amy E. Kerdok, Andrew A. Biewener, Thomas A. McMahon, Peter G. Weyand, Hugh M. Herr: Energetics and mechanics of human running on surfaces of different stiffnesses. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2002,92 (2), 469-478.
- Ceci R, Hassmen P: Self-monitored exercise at three different RPE intensities in treadmill vs field running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1991, 23 (6): 732-738. READ THIS NEXT: 4 Steps to Your Perfect Marathon Taper
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