5 Reasons to Hit the Trails

Friday 5If you’ve never tried trail running, you may not get why it has such the passionate cult following that it does. After all, isn’t it just like regular running? Except in the woods instead of on the roads? You might have even considered trying it after hearing that the softer surfaces can be better for your body than pavement, but odds are good you haven’t actually gotten out to do that. After all, why would you drive to an unfamiliar park and then risk getting lost in the woods when you can just step outside your front door?

While trail running definitely requires a little extra time and pre-run preparation (and isn’t without its own special set of risks), it’s still worth giving it a shot. Here are the top 5 reasons to get off the roads and into the woods.

5. You need a change of scenery. If you’re like most of us, you have every single route around your house memorized by now. You know where the water stops, traffic lights, hills and bathrooms are. Spice things up by running through a completely different environment. You may think you know the local scenery if you run by a park all of the time, but I guarantee it’s a completely different world inside those trees.

[pullquote]Trail runs are recovery runs for the mind.[/pullquote]

4. You won’t have to worry about your speed, pace, or hitting splits. When you run on trails, you can run for time, not distance. 5 miles of trails will be more work than 5 miles on the roads, especially if you’ve never taken your runs off-road before. Therefore, to avoid overdoing it, you’ll want to start out by just running for time, be it 45 minutes, an hour, or whatever you had planned for that day. Besides, between the tree cover, elevation, and switchbacks, your GPS device will be completely useless. Stick to an old-fashioned time-tracker, ignore how far you may or may not have gone, and enjoy the freedom.

Don't tell me this doesn't look like fun (photo courtesy of Dawn Dolobowsky)
Don’t tell me this doesn’t look like fun (photo courtesy of Dawn Dolobowsky)

3. It’s a good excuse to play in the mud. Remember when you were a kid and there was no greater joy than jumping in puddles and getting dirty before heading in the house to a horrified mother? It’s still just as fun, even if you’re the one making yourself hose off or strip down in the garage before you’re allowed back inside. If you’ve never experienced the joy of barreling through a swamp or creek crossing, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

2. Increased running zen for everyone. If you’re the type of runner that likes to tune out on your runs, running in nature is the best way to do that. Trails are peaceful and quiet, even if they run close to major roads. It’s amazing how well just a few feet of foliage can cut down on urban noise. If you’re the type who likes to tune in to your body and your surroundings while you run, being on the trail will remove all other distractions. It’ll just be you and the ground under your feet.

1. It will make you a better runner. You’ll become lighter on your feet as you get better at navigating the rocks, roots, and bumps that are found on the trails. Your ankles will get stronger from all of the side-to-side obstacle avoidance, which will help keep them (as long as your knees, hips, and back) all in one piece when you’re running on the roads. And the extreme inclines and terrains you encounter will make you stronger and fitter, increasing your speed on flat, solid ground.

Are you a trail junkie? If you’ve never tried it, what’s stopping you?

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In a previous life, I worked on computers and spent all day sitting. Thanks to running, I've rebooted my career and am now a running and triathlon coach and soon-to-be physical therapist. I've also got the mind and spirit of an elite trapped in the body of a back-of-the-packer.

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  1. I love trail running! My favorite thing about it is I don’t have to worry about cars. There’s no stop starting, dodging across crosswalks or anything like that. You just get to run!

  2. I became a trail runner in the winter of 2010. Living in Boise, Idaho, I have the beautiful Boise Foothills and miles and miles of trails practically right out my front door! It’s wonderful to get lost in the mountains for hours!!

  3. I love trail running!! I agree with everything above. I’m just a happier person when I spend more time in the woods (so much so, even a friend of mine said that exact thing out of the blue to me last weekend as we snowshoed in the White Mountains in NH). The air is cleaner not sucking in all that car exhaust, it’s cooler in summer, and you don’t have to slather on the sunscreen! There are drawbacks – like having to use products to avoid getting ticks (in the Northeast, the woods are teeming with Lyme disease carrying deer ticks), and potential injuries from missteps, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, I think!

    There’s something super satisfying about finishing a run with mud all over the back of my legs. C’mon Spring! Can’t wait to hit the muddy trails!

  4. I was just talking with someone about this today. Trail running would be my first choice easily if it weren’t for the safety factor. I won’t run by myself in a secluded area, and I haven’t found a reliable buddy yet.