Are you looking to take your running to the next level? Looking for a good way to mix your running workouts and add a new challenge and twist to your training program? Or are you just bored with your regular running routine? Then why not give trail running a try and be one with nature. The fact is, trail running is awesome, and its physical and mental benefits are—beyond the shadow of a doubt—undeniable.
Therefore, if you have a been a consistent “city”, on-road kinda of a runner, and are thinking about heading off to the beaten track, then keep on reading. Trail running is simple, but taking your first few steps can be really intimidating. But fret no more. This awesome guide will teach you how to start trail running right, avoid injury or burnout, stay safe for the long haul and make the most out of every trail workout you do.
Trail Running Demystified
In layman’s terms, trail running involves running on anything that is unpaved and/or natural, mostly taking place on softer, more cushioned surfaces like dirt paths and grass. In most cases, a good trail should (1) offer natural obstacles (think roots and rocks, etc.), (2) be unpaved (preferably natural), (3) provide great scenery (away from the hustle and bustle of the city), and (4) consist of drastic elevation gain (lots of ascents and descents).
Therefore, as long as a trail fulfills these four conditions, you might be on the right (trail) path. By the same token, going for a run in the park or around the local forest might be qualified as a trail workout. In fact, a good trail could be as simple as running on grass, a bike course, dirt and or a sand path.
The Benefits of Trail Running
Here are some of the benefits that you stand to gain from hitting the trails:
Less Risk of injury. When trail running is done right, it can help you reduce the risk of injury while making you a more efficient and stronger runner in the process.
Why? The reason is simple. Trail running offers surfaces that you are typically much softer, especially in contrast with pavement. In fact, study shows that running on hard surfaces might lead to an increased risk of overuse injury.
Plus, trails also reduce the risk of overuse injury by forcing your body to recruit different stabilizing muscles in the hips and the lower legs—unlike road running where you have to apply the same muscles movement and stress the same body parts and ligaments over and over—reducing the risk of the onset of an overuse injury.
More challenge. Trail running offers a broad range of challenges that you will need to overcome, including steep hills to climb (or walk, and hike), the technical terrain to negotiate and navigate. All of these challenges can help you build more muscles in your hips and lower legs as you have to work extra harder to keep your body stable and under control on different terrains and surfaces.
Burns more calories. In fact, according to research, trail running can burn up roughly 10 percent more calories than road running. 10 percent might not seem as much but keep in mind that it does add up. And that might be the exact edge you need with your weight loss goals.
Improves balance and coordination. Running on the unpredictable and uneven terrains engage the smaller, intrinsic “helper” muscle groups—especially in the hips and core—resulting in better stabilization and improved balance and coordination.
Makes you feel like a real runner. This is the ultimate advantage to trail running if you ask me. To be good at trail running, you will have to become good at all sorts of running and learn how to be in tune with your body by running on feel.
Gets you into nature. Well, to be honest, this is maybe the biggest reason I love trail running so much. Trail running will get you out there in nature and into the countryside, fully experiencing the beauty of nature, leaving the hustle and bustle and the pollutants of urban living behind.
The Bad News
As you can see from the list above, trail running has a lot to offer. Nonetheless, I know many of a runner that wouldn’t be seen dead in the trails. Why? To be honest, trail running has a dark side, and if you are not aware of, you might get yourself into trouble.
The fact is, venturing into the wilderness comes with a lot of obstacles, such as steep ascents and descents, jagged terrains, shifty spots in the sands, branches sticking out of the ground, low hanging trees, jarring rocks and roots, and God knows what type of wildlife (and other dangers) might be lurking in the shadows.
So it’s not a 100 percent safe activity—and truth be told, there is a certain degree of risk involved with doing any type of an outdoor sport. Nonetheless, there is a silver lining here. In fact, there are a few measures you can take to reduce the risks and ensure a safe and comfortable trail running experience.