Posted by Pall Catt in Inspiration on December 13, 2017
Guest writer Jane Grates – biker, music lover and fitness enthusiast who acts at the crossroads of aesthetics and purpose to craft experiences that go beyond design and whose opinions belong to nobody but herself, shares with us her thoughts on why trail running is not only good for trail runners.
I’d venture to say that when most people begin running, they do it in a way that’s convenient for them. More often than not, that means that they’ll take up the sport by running around their neighborhood, through a park near their home, around their workplace campus, or even on a treadmill at the local gym they frequent. Many people’s relationship with running begins — and ends — on the pavement. They don’t realize that there’s an entire other side of running out there, an entire other world of running out there, that they have yet to explore.
Obviously, I’m a bit biased, but I think trail running is the way to go. Many runners never discover trail running, or they do it infrequently and sporadically at best, and feel that it’s a type of running reserved only for the best of the best in our sport. These runners don’t realize what a huge disservice they’re doing to themselves, and they don’t realize how much better they could be running on roads by running trails more regularly in their lives.
That’s right. I think one of the best ways to become a faster runner — particularly on roads, but also on trails — is to run on trails more often. Below, I’ll motivate this claim.
Trail running will give you more time on your feet.
The thing with running trails is that you’re typically going to be spending more time on your feet to cover a given distance than you would if you were simply running on roads. For example, if you’re used to running 8 minute miles on roads, you could easily expect to run 9+ or event 10+ minute miles on trails, simply because you’ll be tasked with navigating difficult terrain and elevation changes, stuff that’s inherent to trail running that doesn’t appear as much, if at all, when you’re running roads. More time on your feet equals a greater aerobic capacity, and in time, I think you’ll notice that you can run farther, and be out there longer, on roads, too.
Trail running makes you stronger in ways road running doesn’t.
Again, by nature of running trails, you’ll have umpteen opportunities to strengthen your musculature in ways that aren’t so ubiquitous in road running. Running fast or hiking over trails, and needing to negotiate technical terrain, all but forces you to strengthen your “little ancillary muscles” or your little stabilizer muscles in your hips and ankles, among others. You may find that running trails gives you a degree of injury protection and prevention, too, because you’re not simply moving in the same plane of motion for hours on end; instead, you’re constantly changing things up and giving your body a workout in different ways.
Trail running can help with injury prevention.
Closely related to my above point is that trail running may help you prevent injuries because not only are you getting in runs that force you to use and strengthen your little ancillary muscles, but you’re also running at constantly varied paces, depending on where you are in the trails. Many runners inadvertently injure themselves because they run too fast, or at the same speed all the time, but running trails obviates this. As you know, it’s pretty hard to run the same pace on the trails all the time.
Trail running is good for mental conditioning.
Another way that trail running is good for road runners looking to get faster is simply that trail running is amazing for mental conditioning. What do I mean? Simply put, trail running is TOUGH! Sure, you’re running at paces that are slower than what you’d post on the roads, but that means that you’re also out there for far longer than you usually would be and are forced to navigate terrain that’s trickier than what you’d encounter on the roads. It can be tempting to give up and quit, as it often is in running, but you don’t really have that option when you’re miles deep into a forest or thousands of feet above civilization. Trail running is great to help mentally condition you, to help get you in touch with your gritty side, and to help teach you that you’re capable of more than you could possibly imagine.
The aforementioned are but a few reasons that running trails regularly can make you faster on roads. As I explained, runners are typically prone to injure themselves, and they often do so because they do too much, too fast, too soon; in other words, they run too many miles before their bodies are ready to handle the volume, they run their mileage way faster than they should, and they run too many miles before they should be or are truly capable of. Trail running helps keep all these factors in check. By running trails, you’ll be forcing yourself to slow down, and you’ll also be forcing yourself to strengthen your aerobic engine — in addition to your musculature — in ways that aren’t so readily available if you’re running roads exclusively. Not only will running beautiful trails harden your mental game, but if you stick around and keep trying, you’ll be granted with the gift of amazing views accessible to only those on foot who dare push their limits. Try running more trails than normal for a season, and go run a couple road races after. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find.