Tireless trail-blazers and staunch pavement pounders alike can appreciate the benefits of trail running. Whether you’re training for your next ultra or your first road 5K, soft-surface running should be incorporated into your training plan. In fact, about 2/3 of your weekly mileage should be run on soft surfaces, which include grass, treadmills, synthetic tracks and woodland trails.
In the simplest of terms, trail running is easier on the body. The uneven terrain serves to condition knees and ankles, making them less prone to injury. Though joints cannot be strengthened per se, the muscles surrounding them can be, thus helping to absorb impact.
Jumping off rocks, skipping over roots and gliding over the various features of terra firma can also aid in increasing endurance and strengthening additional leg muscles. On a typical road run, breathing rates will likely remain steady unless the athlete is incorporating intervals. However, with trail-running, the athlete may be forced to slow down due to unexpected course changes or obstacles, then speed back up, thus challenging his or her cardiovascular system.
In addition, muscles that are not frequently used on the road may be engaged on the trails due to the irregular topography. Though these newly strengthened muscles may not be taxed as much during a road race, having them conditioned will provide the runner with additional energy and power stores if need be.
We can’t forget that the mental benefits of trail running are just as important as the physical. Any marathon runner will tell you that racing 26 miles is a colossal mind game. What better way to clear your mind than with fresh air and an ever-changing landscape?
Out on the trails, you’re bound to notice something different on each run, especially if you’re lucky enough to live where flora and fauna change with the seasons. The trees and wild flowers, the wildlife you may come across, and the tranquility (and safety) of zero automobile traffic make trail-running a welcome relief from road-running frustrations and boredom.
Trail Running Tips
Whether you’re new to trail running or a seasoned vet, here are some tips and tricks to follow on your next running adventure.
Try to look approximately 10 feet ahead to spot rocks, roots, uneven terrain, critters and other objects that could be on the trail.
Safety in numbers
Don’t run alone unless you’re familiar with the territory and know it is safe.
Timing is everything
Due to the canopy, woodland trails can be darker, so be sure to head out while there’s still plenty of daylight. Another option would be to invest in a headlamp.
While trail-specific shoes are not necessary, they are helpful since they have better tread and durability for the terrain.
Spray it, don’t say it
Mosquitos and ticks can be a major nuisance, so be sure to pack the bug spray. And if you live in bear country, be sure to pack the bear spray too.
Carry water or other dehydration zappers if you’re going to be out for a while.
Which way do I go?
Find trails by conducting a quick Google search for park systems in your area. You can also call local running stores or search the internet for Meet-Up groups.
Let someone know your intended running route and the approximate times that you will begin and end your run. Carry your phone with you in case of an emergency—or in case you want to take a fun nature selfie.
Dress for success
Wear layers, no matter the season. The forest shade can feel chilly even in the summer, so be sure to wear items you can easily shed and put back on if need be.