Trail Running… Get On The Stick!

So, you’re considering trail running?  Good call!  More and more of your peers are seeing the benefits of loosening the binds of the road, so maybe now’s the time you do the same.  To help confirm your decision, I’d like to offer you a few beneficial expectations as you set-off on your new adventure.  But first, we have to set some ground rules.  You need to eliminate “pace” from your vocabulary.  At least to start.  We can work it back in later, as you begin to gain familiarity with a particular trail.  For today, however, we can take a break from that term.  You’re welcome!  Next, “embrace the stain.”  See what I did there?  We are told often to, “embrace the pain.”  And, while that still applies, I’m suggesting that you come to terms with the fact that your shoes, socks, shorts, tights, top, are going to get dirty.  With more than sweat.  Often.  Final ground rule – smile.  Have fun!  You’re no longer headed out for a run… you’re now off to play in the woods for a while.  Enjoy it!

Now, on to a few of the benefits to expect as you “set trail.”  First, it’s all about the form.  Technique.  Gait.  Whatever you call it, it’s about to improve.  Trail running forces you to take shorter strides.  Or wait, maybe “trail falling forces you to take shorter strides” is better stated.  Either way, shorter strides equals quicker strides.  Quicker strides equals a higher RPM.  (Revolutions per minute, cadence, steps per minute, etc.)  And, a higher RPM requires that less energy is expelled during transition.  Quick, short strides will naturally lead you to our next benefit… less injury!

Many runners that have been plagued with nagging knee, hip, shin, foot pain often find relief while running trail.  Why?  The easiest answer is that the ground engaged while trail running is softer than asphalt or concrete.  And, softer surfaces not only offer lower impact, but also insist that your stabilizer and core muscles do work.  By building this muscle group, you’re building the support system that will translate to a healthier running experience – regardless of the surface.

From the ground to the air, we will find our next (and my personal favorite) benefit.  Breathing!  I will never forget it, one day several years ago, I was out for a normal run through downtown.  I stop at a traffic light, hands on my head as I joyfully attempt to ingest as much oxygen as I can, while still looking (to the casual motorist) annoyed that I have to pause.  It was then, thanks to a muffler-less Dodge Neon, I took a 450 ppm shot of carbon-monoxide straight up the sniffer!  You know where that doesn’t happen?  On a trail.  In the woods.  Where there are trees… providing oxygen!  Sort of makes you want to take a deep breath just thinking about it, right?  Throw in some shade on hot, sunny days and you will see just how much the trees are our friends!

Finally, for those who care about this sort of thing, speed!  Get faster!  Pace!  (See, I told you we would work it back into our conversation)  We’ve already touched on a few of the reasons your speed will improve – technique, cadence, stabilizing and core muscles.  But, another gem found on the trail are hills.  Running hills is one of, if not the single, most effective ways for a runner to strength train.  Short hills, long hills, steep hills, rolling hills… they are all a resource in their own way.  Why?  Similarly to the softer surfaces, they offer resistance.  Resistance training is effective in increasing strength, tone, mass, and endurance.  All of which contribute to you being faster!

Incorporating trail running into your weekly training plan is one of the most valuable pieces to add to your running puzzle.  There are many more reasons to hit the trail, in fact I could continue to write all day, citing the benefits of trail running.  But, I have other plans.  I am heading out to play in the woods with my friends!  I hope to see you out on the trail soon!

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