When I look back at my history of running, I can quite comfortably say that I started as a road runner. I set my goals on running the 2000 Comrades Marathon at the age of 18, this kind of put me in a world where the only thing that mattered was mileage and comrades. My focus was to just run, every run that I did was all about pace, distance and time.
Some 17 years later I am confident to say that I am probably spending about 80% of my running, running off road. I hardly look at my watch, I never check my stats and I rarely even look at the distance I have run – I run on time. The fact that I live in Somerset West and work in Stellenbosch counts big time in my favour. 2017 came along and I realized that my father ran his first Comrades in 1967 (50 years ago), for various reasons I entered the 2017 Comrades Marathon and so the transition to road running began.
It stared at the end of 2016 when I had to qualify for Comrades, so I entered the Winelands Marathon. On very little training and little no road running I set out and ran 42.2km of pure road. By about 32km I was so sore I could not fathom another 10km, however, being headstrong and downright stubborn, I pushed to the end and qualified. So, I started realizing what road running was all about and what I had to do.
I know that I needed to increase my road mileage and started spending a lot more time on the road. I chose to try and stick to about a 60% road and 40% trail combination for Comrades. The majority of the 40% was actually recovery runs or runs with friends, the rest was tedious road running. I found that some key differences popped up in my daily runs and I will try and highlight the below:
There are considerable differences between the two and I found that Road Running is definitely more “structured” and “controlled”. Trail running was more about just getting out and going for a run. Yes, I am possibly biased to being a “trail runner” but I also realized the importance of road running in my Comrades lead up so please don’t take anything negative here.
It was incredible seeing myself transition into someone who actually checked his splits after a long run, analyzed the data on Movescount to see my average pace and where I dropped off and how can I improve that. I felt that after every run I had to tell my wife that my pace improved and that I ran the last xyz km in so many minutes. I think she often had to switch off and nod her approval for my splits, time checks and assessments.
I am not going to say that every road runner must be a trail runner and visa versa. I however do want to emphasize one thing – MIX IT UP! Combine both in your training, both have their places in training for whatever event you are doing. I know most Trail Runners will read this and laugh but I can vouch for the weekly road speed session I have been doing. My speed has increased and YES, I can see it on the trails. For the avid road runner, do yourself a favour and try it – get to a Park Run that is on gravel and feel the difference. Try and climb 1000m vertical on a long run in the mountains and don’t look at your watch. Just run, enjoy the freedom and forget the distance, times and or splits.
To finish off, I can almost correlate road running to the daily lives we live. It is all about the next meeting, making our appointments and doing the same thing day in and day out. Maybe we should all throw some “Trail Running” into our daily lives, forget about the next Instagram post or Facebook like – just enjoy life, the freedom and pleasures it brings.