When it comes to your choice of terrain, what kind of runner are you? Do you crave the speed of the track, the solitude of a long trail run, dodging car splash on the roads, or zoing out on the treadmill?
sucked in forced to watch one of the episodes of The Bachelor (that Ben guy, am I the only one who finds him a bit of a scruffy version of Dax Shepard?) where they were in Park City, UT and he was saying how he’s an ‘outdoorsy’ guy. He likes to be out in the woods chopping trees, riding horseback, fishing, and such. All I could think was, “Dang, I would be sucking wind out there on any runs.” Then some flashbacks to some particularly gnarly runs in Park City followed that.
Trails can be really beautiful and fun to run on (not at altitude for me, thank you very much, unless you’re acclimated to it and used to living there) and they have a way of making the miles pass faster than you think…until you look down at your watch and realize that thanks to that climb the miles were technically pretty slow!
I’ve never really lived in a place where there were ample trails that were safe to run on year round. The thing with trails is you need to be really careful because if you’re not you’ll wind up hurt…or worse. I loved the quote World Class trail runner, Michael Wardian, gave me awhile back, “I remind myself not to zone out while outside and especially on the trails where a bad footfall can mean stitches and a new tooth.”
When to Dodge the Trails:
* Really rocky.One of the benefits of trail running is that it can be a much more forgiving surface than concrete IF it’s actually soft terrain. I’ve been to some trails where I was basically running on rocks and gravel which is not going to give your legs anything in the way of cushioning. On top of that the loose gravel stuff could set you up for a nasty fall or ankle twist.
* Slip and sliding…slick trails. In Oregon there were some beautiful trails but, hello, it’s Oregon and it rains a ton which means that the trails were really slick and slippery the vast majority of the time. On top of that if there is a lot of foliage…have you tried running on a bunch of wet leaves…it is your own slip and slide.
* Drastic uphill and downhill running. Lots of uphill running will make you sore (which can be a good thing if you’re intending some harder work to build strength) BUT so will tons of downhill running. The additional pounding and force of each footfall thanks to gravity when running downhill is tremendous, it’s really hard on your quads, knees, and joints. So be careful if your route has a lot of downhill.
* Roots, twists, cougars, darkness, and the other stuff.Since we’re discussing safety it’s important to bring up the obvious factors here…you need to practice running safety regardless of where you’re going but if you’re going solo for a trail run be sure to tell people where you’re going and how long you plan to be out. No one wants to go out for a run and end up having a search party bring them home…and that could be the happy ending of that story.
That said, there are a myriad of benefits to trail running…and if I had more access to some trails I’d get out there more.
* Strength. Like I said, running hills will build your strength tremendously. That extra strength will translate to speed when you then run flats.
* Happier joints and injury prevention. Like I said if you get on a softer surface you can do much in the way of reducing the pounding on your legs. This is one reason lots of elite athletes will go to place where there are miles of soft trails…soft trail miles are ‘easier’ on the body and with the amount they are putting in that adds up to a world of difference.
* More supple joints. Having to navigate twists, turns, and uneven surfaces will strengthen the smaller muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the ankles and feet. This, if done gradually and smartly, (don’t go from no trail running to all trail running all at once or your feet won’t have time to gradually get stronger, they will just get hurt!) will make your ankles and feet stronger and less prone to a sudden pull or sprain down the road if you do step in a pothole.
* The mental factor. A change of scenery is always nice and like I said, if you get going on a good trail that long run can ‘feel’ shorter.
So, what kind of runner are you…if you’re a trail-a-holic now’s your chance to voice why they’ve stolen your heart! This post got really long so I’m going to break it up into a series and spread the love of the track, roads, and treadmill in the next installments…mmmmk.
1) Do you like running trails, do you get a chance to run on them a lot?
2) If you had more access to trails would you take advantage of them? If not, why?
3) What are some things you need to be careful about when running trails?
4) What are some of the benefits of hitting up the trails?