How Does The Terrain Effects The Serious Runners

The sprinter has little to worry about underfoot. For the past 40 years the majority of tracks have been built with a rubbery surface, which aids elastic rebound after landing. These were a source of considerable injury when first introduced because of the shock of the bounce-back and the Doppler effect on the untrained muscles and Achilles tendons.

 Training on these tracks as they have become more numerous has helped to reduce incidence of injury. This is not the case for longer-distance runners after they leave the track. Roads themselves vary from hard concrete to soft tarmac; even standing water changes the forces produced on landing. All of these alter the shock waves and response within the lower limbs particularly. Even more difficult is the adaptation by the hill or mountain runner, who not only has to ascend and descend vertically  but may also have to run slopes diagonally. 

This produces excessive forces not only on the lower limbs as the ankle joints need to prepare for constant inversion and eversion, but also on the knees and hips and the pelvis. The consequence of this may be a scoliotic, or twisted, lower back, which will soon become painful unless steps are taken to prepare for this type of running. Hills are the ultimate test of the ability to stay upright while running. If the runner is unstable, he or she will soon topple over.

 Those blessed with a low center of gravity have a head start, although their inherently short legs may not deliver a long stride. A thin torso is a factor under the control of the runner because it may lower the center of gravity; reducing weight overall also makes it easier to lift the body vertically. Flexibility of the spine, particularly the lumbar area, is also a virtue because the climber needs to incline into the slope and the descender needs to lean backward to avoid the center of gravity from being moved forward horizontally by the running action.

 It follows that the hips have to be more flexible to compensate for the decreased range of motion in the spine that the need to lean causes. Although the muscles that are used to run hills are the same, the emphasis changes. The erector spinae and iliopsoas have more work to do while climbing because a tilted spine requires more effort to hold it stable than a vertical one, where the vertebrae generally just sit on top of each other. Descent places greater stresses on the anterior muscles of the calves and thighs, which have to absorb the impact of landing as well as the effect of gravity.

 Because running on flat surfaces cannot adequately prepare any runner for hills, some of the training should involve climbing, even if stairs alone are used. Downhill training is more difficult if the runner lives on flat terrain, although as a last resort, stepping, both up and down, can give some experience of the problems and training for hills, especially if maintained for several minutes. Climbing muscles in the calves and anterior thighs can be strengthened using the exercises 

 Cross-country running is sufficiently global to boast its own world championships, though all too often they are run on grassy parkland surfaces. The real aficionados prefer six miles or more of deep, glue like mud from which they have to lift their legs out with each stride while attempting not to slip backward on the treacherous ground. Although the choice of footwear may aid movement, it does little to prepare for the increasingly exhausting effort that each stride demands compared to the rebound found on the roads.