If you’re curious about my running background I think you’ll find it unimpressive. I’ve logged some good miles over the last decade and a half; but to be quite honest, I had never really run before I joined the military. At basic training I experienced something new; running until the tears were streaming out of my eyes from exertion. By the end of AIT (advanced individual training) I was running up to 12 miles every other day. The short side is that while I’ve enjoyed some good distances I’ve never been fast, and I’m a terrible sprinter. I’ve never won any races although I have participated in marathon teams and a 13 plus mile Spartan race, and then plenty of smaller events. Running to me is a love hate relationship; and aside from those days when I am simply in the groove, I love to hate it. In this article I want to highlight a few points dealing with my favorite, or most tolerable, form of running…trail running.
From active.com I found a great article: 5 Reasons to Try Trail Running. Here are some excerpts from each below, and if you check out the full article you’ll find some great links.
- FEWER INJURIES – Trail running surfaces are much softer than the asphalt or concrete you’ll find when running around town. Softer surfaces mean fewer injuries, not only due to lower impact forces, but also because you’ll build more strength in the muscles that help stabilize your lower leg. These muscles help absorb impact forces and provide more support—no matter what surface you’re running on—and that can add up to fewer injuries.
- IMPROVED TECHNIQUE – Studies show that running on uneven terrain causes you to take shorter, quicker strides and land more on the forefoot than the heel. These adjustments are helpful when you’re running on any surface. Shorter strides, a faster stride rate and mid-foot landing requires less energy and allows for faster acceleration than heel-toe running with longer strides.
- MENTAL BREAK – Just as important as the physical benefits, trail running is mentally relaxing as well. Running in the woods certainly beats chugging around the asphalt jungle in town, and when you’re running the trails, there’s less stress about your time and pace. It allows you to enjoy your run, which is a major component in maintaining consistency in your training over time. For those who decide to try trail running races, the decreased emphasis on times can be just the tonic if you’re a typical runner obsessed with performance who beats yourself up over your race times. The difficulty of trail running courses and the variability in distances gives you “permission” to run a bit slower than you would on the roads and this can help you relax and focus on other aspects of racing, such as tactics, learning to manage your effort and learning to run by feel, regardless of what your watch may be telling you.
- BREATHE EASIER – Trails are usually off-limits to motor vehicles, so you don`t have to worry about taking a deep breath of carbon monoxide every time a car goes by. Some studies have actually shown an increase in cardiovascular disease among those who exercise in a high pollution environment.
- GET FASTER – For those of you most concerned with improving your times, rest assured, trail running can make you faster. Most trail running involves hills and lots of them. Running uphill makes you stronger, it’s actually the most efficient form of strength training for runners since it uses all the muscles you activate when running on flat surfaces, but builds greater strength due to the increased resistance.
Right now I’m in the process of getting back into running shape. I’ve found that when you are “their”, or in other words you are past the conditioning phase and into the maintaining phase, running is tolerable; in fact it can even be rather enjoyable. To downside is that if you get sick, or let a few weeks go by, you pretty much feel like you’re starting at ground zero all over; and every step of getting into a well-conditioned state blows. When I’m running consistently I’ve found myself hitting at least a 10 miler plus a week; but the irony is that I’ve never maxed the run on an army PT test during these phases unless I’ve also incorporated sprints and bleachers. If you’re like me then you like being in shape; and if you have to run you’d probably rather slow down and enjoy the terrain.
Some advice from Men’s Health on trail running tips was “Big hills leave even the best trail runners sucking wind. Your natural reaction is to hunch forward like Quasimodo, but that’s a great way to keep your lungs from getting a full tank of gas…let your ankles adjust to the incline, keeping your back erect and using powerful, compact arm swings to propel yourself up the trail’ and continuing “You’ll move faster down hills, so you need to be more aware of the terrain ahead. Keep your weight back slightly—as if you’re quick-stepping down the hill on your heels–and swing your arms with bent elbows up high, near your chest. Hold your arms out just far enough from your sides to ensure good balance.”
Three things I cannot personally stand are running on a track, treadmill, or through an urban developed area. I enjoy taking my shirt off but I don’t feel like having people watch me; I guess I’m not sexy or egotistic enough to be one of those guys running through the park for all the babes to check out. I’m good with country roads but nothing beats trail running. There are many factors that go into this appreciation; fewer people, sounds of running water, trees, fresh air, irregular running tracks that don’t leave me bored, and did I mention fewer people?
Ideally I think it is enjoyable when you can’t see the end through the terrain and trees, and have good running company or some rockin tunes to help you carry a comfortable pace. When you’re running trails you’re typically not concerned with what time you finish and so you can often slacken the pace and take in what’s around you. Trails ideal for trail running can be found almost anywhere. Most canyons have hiking or walking paths. If you have any type of State or Federal Park with a little bit of wilderness you’ll find good trails. Unless you live in the heart of urban-ville your pretty much guaranteed some good running terrain; for example, the Boise Idaho area has some9,370 paths and routes that can be used as running trails.
If you’re an avid runner then there is likely zero useful information in this article; but if you’re interested in trying something new that is also extremely good for you, and you haven’t run trails before, you gotta give it a shot. If you’re curious, the best trail running I’ve ever done has been around Silver Falls State Park, Oregon; if you’re not familiar with it look up some photos and you’ll see why. The elevation drop when I’m visiting my family also makes me feel like a champ.
Some good sources for information on trail running:
The running photo came from Jack Affleck Photography from the trail running gallery.