If you haven’t guessed already, I love running. I haven’t been as good with it this past year as I would like, but I’m trying to get myself back into running consistently. I feel like I’ve been kind of in a workout funk the past month or so, so I really need to change things up. With limited time and budget, what can I do?
Answer? Trail running.
Isn’t that for super athletes, or those weird barefoot runners?
Anyone can run on trials. Heck, even walking on a trail is better than walking on flat pavement.
I suppose I should clarify what I mean by trail running. Probably the first thing that pops in your head is an image of some secluded trail high up in the mountains overlooking a peaceful valley. Or some rugged path through a dense forest. A gravelly path through a park. While these are wonderful images, you don’t have to travel for miles to get the benefits of trail running.
If you’re new to the idea, here are my suggestions:
- Start off easy. You don’t have to find a secluded path somewhere. You could just run in the grass alongside a sidewalk in a park and still get some of the benefits. If you do have access to a trail, try to find one that is relatively flat and clear of debris like branches, roots, and rocks.This one is pretty flat and uncluttered, so if I was going to bring someone on a trail with me that has never done it before, I would bring them here!
- Start off slow. Your body moves differently when you’re on the softer surfaces (more on that later) so you kind of have to learn how to balance, dodge, all that.
- If possible, invest in trail running shoes. These shoes tend to be a little heavier than regular running shoes because they have a thicker sole. The tread is deeper and they come up a little higher around the ankle for more support. If you can’t buy them or don’t want to, just make sure you have good shoes that support you.
Now onto the benefits!
- One of the most basic reasons I love trail running is it breaks up the monotony. Treadmills are okay if you have no other option, but they are so boring. Running around a track is slightly better, but not by much. Running around outside is much better. You get to actually move around and see things. Sometimes it feels like you’re going faster when you see houses whizzing by. Trail running? That’s a whole different game. You can go on the same trail every day and have a different experience.
- The softer terrain tends to be better on your joints. Runners hear all the time from non-runners “Isn’t running bad for your knees?”. I can see where they get that idea. That continuous pounding on the pavement puts a lot of stress on your joints. Trails are different. They’re softer, so your joints aren’t taking as hard of a hit. If you’re training for a race and start to experience some knee pain, try hitting the trails. You might not go as far or fast as your normally would, but your knees will thank you.
- Because of the constant balance changes, dodging of tree branches, and jumping over rocks and puddles, your stabilizer muscles get worked more. (Hello abs!) There is always the risk of rolling an ankle, landing wrong, or falling, but the more you run on the trails, the better you get at avoiding these problems. I know my abs are always a little sore after doing a trail run. My legs burn and ache, but I can feel myself getting stronger. I’m not as worried now about hurting myself.
- You have to really focus on your surroundings. This may sounds stressful, but it a way it’s almost meditative. When I’m focusing more on what’s in front of me and around me, I have less time to worry about my problems. Many find trail running as an escape. You’re less distracted by cars, people, stop signs, etc.
- When you’re running on trails, you’re away from traffic, which means better air! How many times has a car passed you spewing exhaust and you cough and gag for a minute, killing your time? You don’t have to worry about that.
- Being in nature is good for your body, mind, and soul. Just watch out for critters! I’ve seen this guy and a friend a few times when I’ve been out to these trails. I’m pretty sure these are harmless snakes, but I always stop and turn around just in case.
As I’ve said, I’m trying to get back into the habit of running. Because of an ongoing injury, I won’t be able to run a marathon any time soon, but I can have shorter more effective runs. I’ve been trying to do more interval training and I would love to start doing a trail run at least once a week. I always feel like a mile of trail running is equivalent to 4 or 5 miles on the road because of the extra work I have to do.
Do you think you’re ready to give it a shot? I say go for it!