Mooreabbey Milers' Barry Hartnett on the open mountain
THIS week we are looking at off-road training.
You may think that off-road training may not be suitable for you, but you never know what you will like until you try it and whether you walk, run or cycle there are plenty of options out there for you.
Walking on country roads at night, especially at this time of the year, can be a little tricky. You will need a hi-vis vest and a good light to start with, but when you leave a built up area and street lighting and go out into the dark countryside, blind bends and fast cars can cause all sorts of problems.
Some drivers don’t realise that someone walking, running or cycling on a country road can be completely blinded by a car’s headlights.
When you are walking, you can stand in by the roadside and let a car pass but, while running or cycling if a driver keeps their headlights on, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble really fast as water or potholes become invisible.
The alternative is to stay on the footpaths in the streetlight roads, but this won’t work if your local town or village is only a couple of hundred yards long.
A local sports field or community field public park can be great or else you can hit the trails or forest roads. Night or day the trails are a great way to mix up your training.
One important thing to note is that you will need different footwear as the surface changes and even with your bike you may need different tyres. Things to remember are always bring some water, a phone and extra clothes.
Stay on paths that you are familiar with and be careful not to overdo it and get caught-out miles from home and end up spending hours more than you intended out on the trails.
A great way to start, is to download one of the trail route apps, one which has your local routes is probably the best. An app that I would recommend is AllTrails.
There are usually distances on the apps and the time you are expected to complete each of them in. After a few weeks you get to know all the trails and can experiment a bit more with terrain and distances. Something I’ve come to find is that you will always have a few favourites.
Running off road can take you anywhere, there are loads of uphill sections in the forests and plenty of downhills as well. You will need special trail shoes for this kind of running.
The shoe used for off-road running usually has a certain amount of cushioning on them as well as more grip to support the foot on this difficult surface. There are also shoes for more extreme off-road running.
Some of these will have serious studs for grip but, are not suitable for roads or trails as there is no cushioning. They are only really suitable for bog and open mountain running. They would be of no real use to someone walking as they are very light and your feet would be frozen in them if you were only walking.
Off-road exercise is usually slower than on tarred roads or concrete paths. Muddy trails can be hard work at first, but over time you will get stronger and better at picking out the best path. For running and cycling you may also cover a lot less ground in comparison to what you will on the roads.
This is totally normal so don’t be too concerned and as I mentioned, the more you practice the better you will get. The extra strength you can develop doing off-road exercise can be great but very tough going, at times.
Cycling in particular can be hard on the legs at first, but at the same time it can be great fun. I highly recommend going to official bike trails and hiring out a proper bike, built for the terrain.
If you can, look for some tuition as off-road cycling is completely different from road cycling and requires a different set of skills. The obvious difference is the larger tyres and the regular wide handlebars.
The brakes are usually hydraulic as brake pads are useless when wet or covered in mud. The off-road cyclist spends most of their time out of the saddle as on rough ground it can be painful to stay in the saddle. Body position and moving the bike around under you is also a skill you need to master.
On the road speed is the name of the game but off road grip and suspension are your best friends. There are also different levels of off-road biking. Most of you will have heard of the Ballyhoura mountain bike trails where there are over 100 km of dedicated mountain bike trails.
There is also an extreme type of mountain biking where bikers use the open mountain and do some extreme downhill sections. A bike with full suspension and larger tyres with extra grip are used. There is also cycle cross where road bikes with a fixed gear and special tyres are used, this is mainly done on fire roads over grass paths and on sand.
So don’t just settle for simply cycling on the road, especially if you find yourself getting bored of the same training. Maybe try mixing it up a little. There is plenty of different variations of sports out there to try and you might surprise yourself and actually enjoy them!