Trail Running:is Good for all Runners?
If I had to sum up all of the benefits of trail running into one sentence, it would simply be this: you’ll get stronger and faster, all while reducing the risk of running related injuries.
Trails are typically softer than the road.
This is great for your training for two reasons. One, the softer terrain (typically dirt or sand) offers less impact on your body compared to the constant pounding on pavement, which can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries.“Trails are going to take away a lot of stress from the impact that you’d normally get running on harder surfaces,” says Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon. “With knee pain, especially, and ITB syndrome, shin splints, and any other condition that is worsened with increased impact,” says Dr. Levin, “the lesser impact of running trails is going to feel better than pavement. Trail running may be more beneficial for preventing most forms of tendinitis.
Two, the softer terrain has more give to it, meaning you are going to have to work harder to run on it. This is especially the case when running on soft sand or mud. This benefit is likely the one most road runners grumble at lower pace. But the added effort translates over to stronger legs, which will result in (hopefully) faster paces on the road.
Variety is key.
A lot of running injuries are caused by muscular weaknesses and imbalances from the same, repetitive, forward motion that is required in road or treadmill running. How many times have you heard of a runner who “stepped the wrong way” off of a curb or into a pothole, resulting in an ankle sprain? Sure, some injuries are unavoidable, but many certainly could be avoided if the body was better prepared for quick changes in movement and direction.
Now, trail terrain is more variable than that of the road. Of course, there are expectations of long, straight, flat, fire road type trails, but for the more part you will likely encounter rocks, roots, divots, and trail that quickly and sharply changes direction. With the frequent terrain changes on a trail, runners are constantly forced to vary their running stride. Long strides, short strides, lateral movement (something you hardly ever see in road running), up hills, down hills, even leaps over a small stream or puddle, a trail runners movement is constantly changing. This varying running pattern forces runners to use different muscle groups, as well as challenge ligaments in the knees and especially in the ankles. And when you challenge muscles, you become stronger, and risk of injury decreases.
This essentially means having awareness of where your body is, while in movement, in comparison to the environment around it. In order to prevent stepping on or even falling over trail hazards (rocks, roots, etc.), a far greater level of bodily awareness is required than typically needed when running on paved roads. The greater bodily awareness combined with the constant shifting of your body weight to avoid such obstacles while running will help increase your overall balance and stability. Balance and stability are not only essential skills that are needed in day to day life, but are both skills that are lost over time without practice
Trails are more fun.
Sure, this one is more of a subjective opinion, but I doubt any regular trail runner would disagree with me. Escaping into the woods or meadows gives you a nature experience that a road run often cannot, and a trail’s softer surface gives your body a break, too. The ever changing terrain and environment can help you avoid the monotony often felt running down the same paved road past the same cookie cutter houses. Avoiding monotony = avoiding mental burnout. Avoiding mental burnout = running more miles. Running more miles = stronger runner.
Plus, I doubt anyone will disagree with me when I say that breath taking forest views and fresh air are FAR more enjoyable than bland, industrial views and inhaling exhaust.
Now, I promise not trying to convert the most die hard road runners into trail lovers; you can keep your pavement, I’ll keep my dirt, and we’ll still be one big happy running family. But I do want to point out the benefits of trail running to any of you who may be intimidated or hesitant to leave the roads behind. . But…the next time the opportunity strikes, give trail running a try.
Happy trails to you all!