As a former track runner I regard these events as ways of slowing down fast runners, but those who take part regard them as a lot of fun. They do get you away from the tyranny of the stopwatch and kilometre splits. On the plus side, getting off the tarmac and onto fields and paths is good for the legs; too much pounding on the roads leads to stress fractures. The drawback is that running off-road also place more demands on the tendons of the knees and ankles.
It is a basic rule of training that you should prepare for the conditions you are going to face. If you are going to run in a hill race, you need a few weeks of running hills, at least. My son recently ran the Mount Olympus marathon (9000 feet of climb!) on the back of a few hills on Wimbledon Common, and suffered accordingly! If you are going to do off road races on uneven surfaces, you should work on ankle and knee strength by running on uneven surfaces at least twice a week, for a month beforehand.
If the race is mostly off–road, you should make sure that you have suitable shoes. Lightweight racing flats are fine if it’s dry, but according to ‘Sod’s Law’ it’s bound to rain if you turn up with nothing else to run in. It’s well worth getting some off-road trainer-racers, because it will encourage you to get onto trails or grassland more often.
It’s also a good time to experiment with different events on different surfaces. It’s summer, long evenings, holidays . Do something you haven’t done before. If you are the sort of person whose life revolves around spring and autumn marathons, with 10ks and half-marathons as part of a structured programme, this is the time of year to have a change. It could be orienteering, hill running, biathlon, or just a change of distance.
I always advise people to do some track running – 1500m, 3000 or 5000. The British Milers Club have a series of regional and national events which go on right through the summer. Running fast on the track is something every runner should do. Training for these distances forces you to do train harder and faster, and most of us would admit that this is something we should do more often. It even applies to marathon runners. I have gone into interval training in previous articles, but the basic 12 x 400m with a 200m jog recovery is something which should be a regular part of the training for every distance runner. For over-fifties it can be 10x 400 and for over sixties 8 x 400. It tells you exactly where you are in terms of running speed.
So – enjoy your summer and try something different. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.