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The dirt on training

Posted by Ty Velde  March 29, 2009 07:39 AM

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Just three weeks to go! Before we know it, race day will be here. By this point I suspect you’ve done your long run and will now begin the process of tapering things back in preparation for the big day.

I have to admit, it always feels great when you talk to other folks the night or day after your long run, or when you’re at work on Monday morning recounting your weekend exploits with your colleagues. While everyone has a great story, it’s always a “head turner” when you say to people “yeah, I ran 20 miles on Saturday”.

However, what I find interesting are the follow-up questions that inevitably come along such as, “How do you not get bored?” or “Don’t you feel like stopping?” and “How do your knees hold up?” While everyone has different answers to every question based on their own personal experience, it’s this last question regarding “the knees” that I would like to specifically address.

As anyone knows, marathon training takes a toll on your body. The sheer volume of mileage you need to log means that you are going to likely put more stress on parts of your body than you ever have before, including your knees.

This is why you need to gradually increase your mileage, so not only will you be able to run farther, but also so that your body is physically ready to do so as well. While there are exceptions to every rule, if you go from 0 to 60, without doing anything in between my guess is that you would experience levels of discomfort and injuries you did not even know you could get.

Additionally, there’s the importance of making sure you have a good pair of shoes that fit correctly and are not too worn down. Now, I don’t claim to be an equipment expert, but if you’re not replacing your shoes on a somewhat regular schedule and making sure they fit properly, this can make long runs and marathons a very uncomfortable experience.

However, one area that I feel is often overlooked is where and what you run on. What I mean by this is the surface you choose to train on can really impact the toll that training will take on your body, particularly your knees. I always try to pick training routes that enable me to run on as much grass and dirt as possible. The reason for this is that grass and dirt will actually absorb some of the shock associated with running and in turn put less stress on your knees and other parts of your body as well.

This is one reason why I really like training along the Charles River, as I can do a 20+ mile run and literally 70% of the run will be on a combination of grass and dirt. Sure this means that you have to deal with some uneven surfaces and the occasional tree roots and rocks, but fact that in the end it puts less stress on my knees is completely worth it.

I’ve also read that you can actually get a better workout by running on grass and dirt vs. pavement. The reason being is that because running on grass and dirt requires you to actually push harder than you do when running on the road. For more information on this topic, click here. So not only will you feel better, you may in the end get a better workout as well.

Therefore, the key here is to look at your running route not only from the perspective of distance and terrain (hills, etc), but also the surfaces you will be running on. While it’s certainly easier to just hit the road and at times seems like the logical choice, take a look around and see if you are able to run to the side or if there is a dirt path in the vicinity. If its there, try running on that versus the pavement and trust me, your knees will thank you for it.

Ultimately, I feel that the ability to do much of my training on grass and dirt has been one of the keys as to why I’ve been able to run as along as I have been running and experience minimal discomfort and injuries in the process. Now this may be part luck and part genetics, but the surface you choose to train on can also really impact how you’ll feel while training and in the end ensure you have much better “physical” experience on race day.

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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