“I’ve heard a lot of people discussing how road speed applies to mountain running lately, and I’ll start with short distance mountain running.

People have been using the example of runners, like Joseph Gray and Grayson Murphy, and they’re both US runners come from a road track background. Grayson Murphy recently crushed the world mountain running championships, winning gold against athletes from around the world. A lot of people are saying she has a lot of road speed and that really helped her! Let’s explore this idea a little more.

You CAN Do Well In Both Road and Mountains:

First, I think it is important to say and note that athletes who do well in the mountains, also do a lot of road and track workouts. They do various hill workouts and spend some time getting in some race specific climbs. One thing I believe is also important to add is that terrain matters. The typical US courses and world courses contains some technical sections, but compared to other races, they’re still very, very runnable.

Some would argue that this principle of road/track speed translating to mountain speed applies to everyone. Well, that I wouldn’t say that’s true. I think it’s very dependent on your running form and how efficient you are of running uphill and downhill. There’s definitely some fearlessness needed in the downhill, as well as running good running form.

There are other examples of good track and road runners doing these short mountain races and not doing as well. They either not as good on the terrain, or they’re just not as efficient as running up or downhill. The length of the race can also be a factor.

For example, Grayson Murphy just won on a 15-kilometer course that gained 751 meters of elevation, but would the outcome change as we go into longer distances? Possibly! But it’s still an incredible accomplishment regardless. A large part of doing well in short, mountainous races is being really fit and having a good cardiovascular system.

Considerations for LONGER Trail Ultras:

But what about when you’re doing a long mountain ultra? Let’s just look at something like the Speedgoat 50km.

I’ve already discussed how terrain plays a huge factor in longer mountain races and the stress of the downhills. If you are looking at the top runners, they’re going fast on that first downhill. Now, it’s not top speed, because they’re probably holding back a little bit. But an onlooker would say they’re “flying down that hill.” After that, their legs must be able to handle that downhill stress so then they can hit the next big climb and still be able to run smooth, efficiently, and fast. That downhill stress really, really matters.

There’s plenty of good examples at Speedgoat of talented marathon runners who totally imploded on that course (I won’t call anybody out).A big part of it is that their legs just weren’t ready to handle all the stress that mountain running contains. Of course, altitude’s a factor too for a lot of mountain races. And then again, just like the variability of terrain, some people just don’t move very well over rocky or uneven surfaces.

What if you are someone who is looking to start transitioning from the road to the mountains? Or, are you someone that likes to do #AnySurfaceAnyDistance? (As we like to say).

Here are some things I think are good to do:

Even if you are doing a longer mountain race, it’s good to do some workouts on the road.

From what I’ve seen from myself, and even the athletes I coach, is that it’s really easy to get sloppy if you’re doing all of your runs on hilly trails or, or mountainous terrain, and then you’re just beating up your legs day after day.

Your legs do get stronger be able to handle more mountainous terrain as you continue to train. But it’s always good to go back and do flatter runs to work on running mechanics and give your legs a break from hills.

I will say you could probably get away up with a lot more road running during with shorter trail races, but try to do at least a couple days of very specific runs or workouts for your trail race for the race that you’re actually doing.

Let’s Recap

To sum everything up, road speed can play a significant rolein mountain races, particularly in shorter distances where the terrain isrelatively runnable. Athletes with a background in road and track running oftendemonstrate success in mountain races, utilizing their speed and endurance totheir advantage.

However, the translation of road speed to mountain speed is not universal, as individual running form, efficiency on varied terrain, and fearlessness in downhill sections also come into play. Factors such as race distance, terrain technicality, and the ability to handle downhill stress further influence performance.

It is important for athletes transitioning from road to mountain running to incorporate road workouts to maintain running mechanics and give their legs a break from constant hilly terrain. Balancing specific trail runs and road workouts can contribute to overall training effectiveness and enhance performance in mountain races, regardless of distance.

By understanding the complexities of road speed in mountain running and tailoring training accordingly, athletes can optimize their performance and achieve their goals in these challenging races.”