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Q&A with Coach: Can you run on trails if you’re training for a road race?

There’s an exercise science term that’s incredibly useful when evaluating any training problem: specificity.

Trail Running

The principle of specificity implies that to improve at any physical task, you must perform that task.

  • Training for an ultramarathon? Do your long runs.
  • Want to race a fast mile? Develop your speed.
  • Want to get stronger? Lift weights.

It’s deceptively simple but often runners fall into traps of thinking this principle doesn’t apply to them. They say things like, “I want to run a Boston Qualifying marathon time… on low mileage.

Or my favorite: “CrossFit Endurance is how you train for a marathon!”

Face palm…

Instead, specific training will lead to better results.

Like I enjoy saying, you can’t plant potatoes and expect to harvest carrots.

Today I’m using the principle of specificity to answer a common trail running question that I regularly see in my inbox:

I’m training for a road race but I LOVE running trails. Can I still trail run or do I need to be on the same surface as my goal race?

There’s two parts to this question (based on the distance of your goal race) and I tackle them in a new video.

Trails Runs for Road Racing

Last week I recorded this Q&A while on a family trip to Hawaii. Before running the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail, I said hi to some chickens and pressed the record button:

I also included some fun trail footage of spider webs, a Banyon tree, steep rock faces, crazy trails, and awesome views.

You’ll notice at the end that I talk about how I felt covering this type of technical terrain. After lifting for five consistent weeks, I feel like I can maintain more efficient form for longer periods of time.

Late in the run, I don’t feel so fatigued. I feel stronger and better able to run fluidly. When I do get tired, I’m still coordinated enough to prevent falling (no easy feat on these crazy trails!).

You can see what kind of lifting I’m doing here.

It’s runner-specific, progressive, and builds the strength and power runners need for injury prevention and speed.

And if you have any running questions that I can help you with, then you know where to find me!

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