1583Get tough from the ground up

Get tough from the ground up

get-toughIf you’re aching from pounding the pavement, off-road running could banish your injury demons, says Lisa Jackson Are you sick of picking up injuries while running on the road or treadmill? Then you’ll be delighted to hear that throwing in the towel and becoming a cyclist instead isn’t your only option. There is another alternative – and it’s even more fun than regular running. That option is to hit the trail, and it could very well be the answer to niggle-free running, according to Martin Yelling, who coaches trail-running retreats for Adventures in the Alps. ‘Repeated training on tarmac, pavement pounding or even treadmill running can place considerable stress on your joints, ligaments and tendons, and can lead to a higher risk of repetitive or overuse injuries,’ says Yelling. ‘But with trail running, you’re less likely to become injured because the diverse terrain you encounter develops your technical running ability, as well as your balance, rhythm and co-ordination.’ Trail-running event organiser Paul Magner (www.trailplus.com) agrees. ‘With off-road running there’s significantly less jarring,’ he says. ‘And because trail running involves such varied underfoot conditions, every foot strike is different, which means every single tendon and muscle in your foot and, to a lesser degree, your lower leg will become stronger, making you less injury prone.’ While trail running is certainly not a panacea that will prevent all running injuries, says physiotherapist Dave Jelley, founder of the running-holiday company Jelleylegs, ‘there is evidence that some running injuries are less common with trail running.’  

The Problem: Plantar fasciitis

The symptoms: Inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes ‘Long-distance road running, especially if the road has a camber, can irritate the plantar fascia,’ says Jelley. ‘Trails, on the other hand are, by their very nature, less even, so the stresses placed on the foot are not continually in the same place. In addition, trails are also often softer than tarmac, so there’s less impact.’  

The injury: Shin splints

The symptoms: Exercise-induced pain in the front lower legs ‘Shin splints are known to be a reaction to repetitive impact and are more prevalent if you run long distances on the road,’ says Jelley. ‘Choose soft grassy trails and woodland tracks to reduce the chance of this injury.’  

The injury: Runner’s knee

The symptoms: This common running injury often results from the underside of the kneecap continually rubbing against the thigh bone if you always run on flat roads ‘Trail running,’ says Jelley, ‘will tend to reduce the risk of this injury because the knee is moving in a variety of positions as you negotiate the changing terrain. By including downhill running on soft ground, you’ll strengthen your knee muscles as they have to act as a brake.’  

The injury: Iliotibial band syndrome

The symptoms: Pain in your outer lower thigh This condition can be caused by the iliotibial band (a band of tissue connecting your hip to your shin bone) rubbing against your thigh bone. ‘This friction can result from runners developing strong quadriceps but neglecting to strengthen their hamstrings and glutes,’ says Jelley. ‘Choosing a trail with plenty of up and down sections will strengthen all of your lower leg muscles.’ It’s also important to remember that some injuries, such as Achilles tendonitis, are more common in trail running, which is why Jelley advises investing in good trail shoes and doing plenty of calf stretching, as well as building up your distances on the trails gradually by adding no more than ten per cent onto the time of your long run each week. You’re also at greater risk of tripping over roots, stones and other obstacles, so mind how you go.

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