Running on trails: Why trail running is good
If you spend most of your training time running on roads, tracks and other hard surfaces, you might want to consider changing your regular routes to include trail running.
Sometimes running on roads begins to feel like a chore. Running on trails might be just what you need to change your frame of mind.
Why do I recommend that you run on trails?
I was reminded of this one day while I was out hiking in the Mountains. In the middle of my blissfully quiet hike, we suddenly heard hooting and hollering. Looking around to find out where the noise was coming from, we saw a pack of sweaty trail runners coming down the hill towards me.
They were laughing and joking and making all sorts of noise. I stepped aside to let them pass, and I found myself wishing I could join them. Why? Because running on trails is the most fun you’ll ever have while running. Seriously.
The group of trail runners that day was making lots of noise because they were in a pack, but this isn’t always the case. You can find lots of solitude with trail running. There are long periods where you leave the noise of the city behind you. The only things you’ll hear are your footsteps and breathing, along with the birds singing in the trees.
Running in nature is good for you
There are also a number of physiological benefits that you will enjoy if you make trail running part of your running program. Here are some of the reasons that you will want to seriously consider running on trails.
Trail Running is Easier on Your Body
Because trails are comprised of softer surfaces than running on the road, you’ll get better shock absorption. When you’re young you might not notice the difference, but get beyond the age of 50 and you may have to seek out softer surfaces more and more often.
Long term running on hard surfaces is hard on our hip and knee joints as well as our feet, ankles and back. Trail running is kinder to all of these parts of your body.
In a survey given to ultra-trail runners, they reported that their legs were not nearly as sore after a 50-mile trail run as when they ran only a 26.2 mile marathon on the road. Twice the distance run on trails and noticeably less sore!
In addition to this, they also said that it took longer for them to recover from the marathon – once again, half the distance on the road and a longer recovery because of all the pounding on a hard surface.
Trail Runners Have Fewer Injuries
When we run on flat, hard road surfaces, we are putting the lower half of our bodies through the same repetitive movements. As a result, we tend to stress the same parts (muscles, ligaments, tendons) over and over again, eventually causing weaknesses in some areas.
Trail surfaces, on the other hand, are uneven. They constantly challenge you to alter your stride, change your speed, lift your legs, and change the angles where you plant your feet on the ground.
Because you use your legs in a wider variety of movements, your entire muscular system begins to adapt to a wider range of motion, taking a lot of the stress off the areas that road running overuses.
Trail runners who spend a significant portion of their training time on trails report virtually no injuries. We often think that trail runners would be more likely to experience ankle sprains because of the uneven surface. This is not the case.
Running That Uses More Energy
You might be wondering why working harder (using more energy) is a good thing, right? Bear with me – I’ll explain.
First of all, trail running gives you a better workout than running on flat, hard road surfaces. We use about 15% more energy when we run on soft surfaces. To put this in context, if you go out for a seven mile trail run, the benefit will be similar to running over 8 miles. So you get an extra mile of cardiovascular benefit on that run.
To go along with this extra energy expended, you will also be burning more calories. (If you’re trying to drop that little bit of extra weight you gained over the holidays – this might be one way to do it.)
Expending extra energy during training on uneven surfaces translates to better performance on the road in races. It will feel easier when you return to the road and you will be able to run faster.
Trail Running helps you become More Flexible
Because of the constantly changing terrain on trails, your ankles, knees and hip joints will become stronger. And because of the stronger joints, the supporting ligaments and tendons also become stronger.
As these parts of your body strengthen, the joints are able to move better before becoming strained. You’ll be more flexible.
Running Trails is Not Boring
Road running, especially along the same routes day after day, week after week, becomes boring. Trail running is never boring.
Not only can you enjoy the scenery of nature while you’re putting in your miles, but you are also escaping the noise, pollution, and traffic of the city. You’ll feel more peaceful while you run. It will feel like less of a chore. It’s calming.
And around every corner is something interesting – rocks, fallen trees, animals, a lake, maybe even another person. Even the little things like changes in terrain, tree roots and uneven surfaces keep things interesting and fun.
You have to watch where you’re going, pay attention to each footstep, climb hills, run around corners, jump over rocks in a constantly changing environment.
Even if you run the same trails each week, things look different with seasons and conditions change with the weather patterns. You won’t get bored. (Your dog will like it more, too.)
I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s good to incorporate trail running into your training schedule. There is no limit to how much you should do – do as much trail running as possible!
It’s worth the extra effort to find some trails within a short driving distance of where you live and work, and take advantage of using them as often as possible. You have a lot to gain by trying it, both mentally and physically.