As a high school runner who didn’t know any better, I’ll admit that I was pretty spoiled. My coach drove us to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore daily, where we had access to miles and miles of trails. I had no idea that running every day on soft surfaces among gorgeous scenery wasn’t the norm for most runners. When I left for college, my daily trail runs were replaced with concrete sidewalks and bike paths in Milwaukee. Only then did I understand the unparalleled benefits that trail running provides.
Greater Core Strength
The continual changes in terrain, elevation, and direction work your core in a manner road running cannot. The softer the trail surface, the better the benefits. Trail running also exposes your weaknesses; if you wake up the next morning with sore hips, calves, or glutes you will know these are the areas you should strengthen.
Runners exert roughly four times their body weight every time their foot hits the ground. Continual pounding is a leading contributor to overuse injuries such as stress fractures or shin splints. Running on soft surfaces decreases this impact considerably, reducing injury risk. I experienced this phenomenon firsthand as I was perpetually injured in college, after an injury-free four years of high school. Upon graduating, I returned to the trails and have only experienced one slight injury in the past 6 years.
Less Mental Fatigue
There is just something about being among nature that makes the miles fly by. If you are growing weary of your typical neighborhood routes, get lost on a new trail. The excitement of exploration will make 10 miles feel like 2.
Trail running helps improve neuromuscular control because you have to make small stride adjustments to keep from tripping over tree roots and hurdling fallen logs. This improvement pays dividends in large races on the road when you make quick decisions while weaving in and out of people.
Uneven terrain quickly strengthens small muscles required for balance in the ankles, knees, and hips. Lack of strength in these areas is often implicated in injuries such as IT band syndrome and runner’s knee. By running on sand or dirt surfaces, your run can double as a strength workout!
One of my least favorite parts about running in Milwaukee was the continual starting and stopping due to traffic lights. When you are on the trail, you can run for an extended period of time without worrying about oncoming traffic or hecklers.
Finally, trail running is perfect for anyone who feels as though he or she has plateaued in workouts. For instance, an 8 mile run on a hilly trail will be significantly more difficult workout than 8 miles on flat roads. Some runners complain that they are not able to run as fast on the trails, but the advantages of hitting the forest far outweigh the impact of a slower pace!
Written By Anna Weber
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