HIT THE TRAILS
By Brian Metzler
Have you ever found yourself in a funk about running? Or feel like your training has plateaued? Or had the feeling you just don’t feel like running?
We all have!
As frustrating as those moments can be, they’re a natural part of training — especially in the dog days of summer and when we don’t have any races to focus on.
There are many ways to rejuvenate your running, but few as failsafe as trail running. Going for a trail run and implementing off-road running into your weekly regiment can work wonders for you with numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits. Here’s how …
6 BENEFITS OF TRAIL RUNNING
1. Trail running is different.
The best thing about trail running is what it is not. When we’re running on the smooth and generally flat roads, we’re often concerned with the pace we’re running, the mileage we’re running and how consistent our movements are. But when we’re on the trail, those aren’t the things that matter most.
Out on the trails, the surface is always changing, so our pace, our gait and our consistency can vary greatly. Embrace those differences and the inherent challenges that trail running brings and don’t worry about your pace or even there are some sections that are so steep you might have to walk.
2. Trail running is an escape.
Let’s face it, running on the roads or bike paths of the urban or suburban grid can be tedious. But running on trails — no matter if it’s a route through a local park, along a nearby river or over a mountain pass — can be a glorious and refreshing escape. Trail running allows you to get away from the monotony (and crowded places) for an hour or two, but it also provides you with a connection to nature, different scenery, a chance to view wildflowers and exciting destinations to run to.
Running to a through a forest, reaching the summit of a peak (no matter how big or small) or running to a waterfall can be a small but exhilarating way to stimulate your running.
3. Trail running is an adventure.
Trail running can put a dose of wild into our lives. Unlike running on the roads or doing workouts prescribed on your training plan, trail running can be a full-on adventure. Some trails are decidedly harder, more remote and more inspiring than others.
If you make it a point to seek out a unique, semi-remote trail once a week, you can experience that bit of thrilling, hard-to-describe excitement that is more common to mountain biking, rock climbing and backpacking than it is to road running.
4. Trail running is a great workout.
Even though you might not be doing tempo runs, intervals or even monitoring your pace, trail running can be a remarkable workout. Running on trails works different muscles groups, requires greater agility and typically involves unpredictable acute heart rate spikes than road running. There’s no question that it can build aerobic fitness, but it can also build your overall strength and endurance in ways that road running cannot. Plus, the softer surfaces of trails are easier on your body, too.
Consider doing your weekly long runs to the trails to discover an enhanced level of endurance. Or convert your 6 x 800-meter track interval session into a 6 x 3-minute hill repeat session on a moderately inclined trail for an enhanced level of fitness.
5. Trail running is fun.
As much as we all love to run, sometimes we feel like it’s a chore. That almost never happens out on the trails. Trail running has a different vibe that makes it feel less about the monotony of running. It’s more like you’re playing in the woods with your friends like you did as a kid. Checking out the views, spotting a deer, or even engaging in the shared struggled of a hard hill or a fast descent are all part of that fun vibe that can inspire you to run trails more often, plan long weekend trail running outings with friends and sign up for trail running races.
6. Trail running will light your fire.
Trail running will challenge you, inspire you and engage you in different ways. Just as there are ways to “think outside the box,” trail running is a way to “run outside the box” on a regular basis. As you become more proficient at running on trails — learning how to become more agile, carrying the right gear and knowing how to find fun, remote and scenic trails — you’ll likely find yourself enjoying it more and more.
You don’t have go far or run precarious trails in the mountains; it starts with a good pair of trail running shoes and a curious sense of adventure. It won’t take long before you’ve rejuvenated your running like never before.
Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine. He is the author of Kicksology: The Science, Hype, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes. (2019, VeloPress)