The Call of the Trail

For avid runners the road does call, and off you go to conquer all                                            

But those whose detour into the woods, find something rare, something good

Trail running is a great compliment to regular road running, and many consider it preferable to time on the pavement.  I have certainly become a convert as it provides many advantages, and I now balance out my running with time in each realm.  Here are a few of the benefits of trail running:

– improves balance:  because footing is variable, one moment soft pine needles, another a boulder field or ‘boney’ root patch, you are forced to focus on and maintain balance at all times.

– strengthens feet:  each step is unique because of the different landing positions, requiring you to use all the muscles in the foot.  In particular it forces your foot to ‘hug’ the rocks and roots, a very natural motion which helps strengthen all the muscles of the foot.

– firms up core:  the body is constantly adjusting to balance and uneven landing surfaces, and this translates directly to a strengthening of the core muscles.

– softer landing:  As compared to pavement running, trail running provides a much softer overall landing experience, reducing stress on muscles and joints.

– great scenery:  It is not uncommon to see a wide variety of wildlife while on the trails, making it very interesting and enjoyable.

This type of running certainly promotes a more mid-foot style of running, as you are on your toes in many instances.  Also, it is important to take shorter steps on the trails, so no one stride puts you in danger of losing footing or balance.  One article I read quoted a veteran of the trails who said that when coming upon a particularly rough section of trail, where you are unsure whether to take one step or two, take three.

As with beginning a road running program, take it slow on the trails and gradually increase your distances.  Perhaps start by running off the side of the road on your pavement runs, or find a rail trail or similar surface.  Be aware that occasionally stumbling and falling are part of the landscape, so to speak, so don’t be discouraged if you trip.  Keep to a mid-foot style, pick up your feet more than usual, and you will soon be hooked on all the enjoyment the trails provide.

-Michael

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