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Discussion: Trail running vs. Off trail

in: Orienteering; Training & Technique

Feb 16, 2019 2:50 PM # 
I'm transitioning from trail running to orienteering and have noted that off trail running is more strenuous with more agility needed. What's the best way to train? When you do training runs, do you stay on the trails, or do you run off trail? Combo?
Feb 16, 2019 3:25 PM # 
Personally, I usually stay on trails. But the trails that I run on are so small and faint that most non-orienteers wouldn't recognize them as anything at all. Once in a while, I even lose the trail.

But running old orienteering courses (or new ones that you make up yourself) is also a very good idea, and I do that sometimes.
Feb 16, 2019 4:03 PM # 
I've remember reading somewhere (that's not a helpful reference ;) that running through terrain (generally white) has about a 20% increase in energy cost. Of course sometimes we're climbing and descending very steep slopes and cliffs, which would be even greater. Trail running is a great place for general O training, but off trail is where the real fitness comes from I would argue as well as and core strength work. Running through terrain requires an increase in balance, coordination, agility and strength that takes some time to develop. Strength training that adds to core strength and stabilizer muscles like free weights and one legged exercises (lunges, calf raises) help a lot, I find. Work in progress, though
Feb 16, 2019 5:33 PM # 
Like JJ, I tend to run on trails mostly for general fitness, except this time of year when it tends to be more pavement. But I like to periodically go off trail and throw in random fartlek intervals in terrain - sometimes it may be a point to point to a different point on a trail, perhaps a quick charge up a small hill or around some glacial erratics or often times I'm just running 5-10' off the trail but parallel to work on footing, agility etc. My short intervals in the terrain usually run 30sec to 3 minutes or so which simulates the speeding up / slowing down found in typical orienteering events.
Feb 16, 2019 9:11 PM # 
We’ve found O training on old maps to be the easiest way to get off trail. Otherwise, we sometimes do intervals on trails to simulate offtrail (sort of). When we do go for off trail runs we are sure to do it either with an O map, or at least a usgs of the area we are in.
Feb 16, 2019 9:39 PM # 
When I was training for this sport, I found that I had to spend a pretty large proportion of my training time running off trail, to get my ligaments/tendons/muscles accustomed to the rigors of racing off trail. This caused less soreness from things like pounding on pavement or extreme DOMS from downhill trail races, but more soreness from my lower leg stabilizer muscles, which were working overtime. It takes a lot of core strength to maintain form running through terrain, but ultimately the only way to get fast and efficient at terrain running is to do it.

One of my strongest love/hate relationships with a workout was terrain loops. Mark a loop in the woods somewhere (surveyors tape or something similar), maybe 1km long, and do repeats of that loop. Over time, you'll get faster, some of which is due to increased efficiency, and some of which is due to the fact that you're creating a trail in the woods...
Feb 16, 2019 9:48 PM # 
What Alex said...

And by my observation, Scandinavian runners, orienteering since childhood, have a much different running style than Americans; more leg-lift...running like deer in the woods!

If you ever get the chance, it is a learning experience to volunteer as a WOC control observer; those elites come through controls, with a running style and speed, on a whole different level. Good luck.
Feb 16, 2019 10:23 PM # 
Another consideration to keep in mind is the shoes sold and used by most to run while orienteering are usually flatter to the ground with much less support and heel drop. If you are used to running on the trails/pavement with those 'normal' running shoes with 8-13 mm heel drop, you might want to get some racing flats and use them on your trail runs to strengthen ligaments and stabilizer muscles used with the flatter orienteering shoes. Or just use your orienteering shoes on some of your trail runs.
Feb 17, 2019 12:10 AM # 
Going off-trail is a very serious decision for an adventurous girl.

Make sure to tell a friend where you are going, leave a map with your expected route, then try to stick to your plan, and ask the friend to check if you got back after a reasonable time. This way if anything happens they will find you within a week rather than in a few years.
Feb 17, 2019 1:23 AM # 
If a Ghost runs through the forest and there's no-one around to see her, does she really exist?
Feb 17, 2019 8:24 AM # 
Trail runners are probably 80 to 90 % there for having the joint flexibility needed to be a successful forest runner. Consult experts to see how to increase the range of motion for the joints of the foot. One I do/did before a race or work out is to 'pre-sprain' the ankles. Simply I walk on the outside of the feet for 25 or so meters two or three times. Also lots of foot rotation. I don't know if it works but I've been doing it so long without a sprain in the forest that I assume it does.
Also develop a style of using your arms to brush aside branches as you come upon them. Protect your eyes.
The advice about finding yourself an off trail training loop is best. As Nike says 'Just Do It!'
Feb 17, 2019 1:46 PM # 
Thanks, all! Great advice!
gordhun, chitownclark - I am very lucky to have super lower leg/ankle strength, as I used to be a figure skater (and coach) back in the 'day'. I also seem to have balance like a cat, where I'll trip, think I'm going down, but catch myself. Whew!

tRicky - Nope, just a figment of your imagination. No girl here. . . :-)

yuerts - sage advice. My family always knows where I'll be if it's a training run or race. And I always have my phone with me.

Nikolay - I run in low drop shoes, Trail running shoes, Saucony Peregrine. I need to feel the ground and have total control of my feet. I have considered other shoes, but these have been tried and true for me. Ran a 30K and had NO blisters.

Ursus - Yes, core strength and strength training in general has been my focus - 2-3 days a week on average I'm hitting the weights. I also do agility drills when I can which also helps to have faster feet to respond to the changing terrain.

jjcote, cmorse, Kfish, Acjospe - I do happen to have access to old orienteering maps of the parks where I run. I also know the trails extremely well (like every rock and root) since I've been running them for over 2 years weekly. I know there are places I could pull off trail and be able to connect back up down the trail. I'm going to work a route out and give it a shot.
Feb 17, 2019 10:07 PM # 
GhostGirl: were you by chance the Georgia lady I was talking with at the NAOC in the Yukon this past summer?
Feb 18, 2019 2:36 AM # 
You may not be given enough time to use your phone. If you go off-trail and see someone in the woods looking extra-friendly and smiling -- do not come close. Run away, as fast as you can.
Feb 18, 2019 12:30 PM # 
gordhun- No, wasn't me. Though I suspect we'll get to meet soon.

yurets - Yep, I also carry pepper spray on me for just such occasions. In my front pocket of my running vest. Always have that and toilet paper and a knife with me, cause you never know when you'll need one or the other.
Feb 18, 2019 5:05 PM # 
Permanent courses are also a good opportunity to try some off-trail navigating. Not sure what your local club might have available. And sometimes they are mainly geared to beginners. But you may be able to create some off trail options by mixing up the order of control points to visit.
Feb 18, 2019 7:48 PM # 
Good suggestion Mike. Here's a link to the OUSA permanent courses. The QOC link seems to take you to their general site. So for further information, I'd email a club officer to get current status on locations and map availability.

When I go to A-meets, I like to get to the venue a day or two early and do practice runs on local maps to acquaint myself with the terrain and local mapping conventions. Host club folks are usually very helpful in this effort. And of course to enjoy the local cuisine and ambiance!
Feb 19, 2019 1:54 AM # 
To build up running in the woods speed and getting comfortable with it, find a reasonable stretch of woods and do repeats. Run for 2, 3, 4’. Turn around. Go back. Repeat as many times as desired. Build your speed. Get comfortable running in the woods. Vary the route for variety of terrain. Add navigation as another level of difficulty and distraction to building speed.
Feb 19, 2019 3:29 AM # 
Switching from trail running to off-trail, and then adding a navigational component ---
is like going from 2D to 3D, it gives a tremendous boost to your brain, giving you a chance to develop that precious CRITICAL THINKING, the key component that defines an orienteer.

This is way more important than muscle strength or coordination.
Feb 19, 2019 3:36 AM # 
There's also more to looking at a map while you're running in the woods than being able to read a map. The sometimes overlooked part is that you're running without looking at where you're putting your feet.
Feb 19, 2019 2:53 PM # 
Mikeminium - Yes! Great idea! We do have some permanent courses, I'll have to look into them further. I think I'll also be needing them in the summer to keep up the navigation practice when the meets aren't running.
Feb 19, 2019 5:43 PM # 
Yurets - all are critical skills and need to be practiced. Like many things, focusing on one element at a time eliminates the confusion. If one wants to travel in the woods more easily, focus on that with a simple out and back repeat. For navigation, take a map and compass and short course and focus on that without worrying about speed. And then combine all in another exercise.

This discussion thread is closed.