Trail running can be tougher than pavement pounding – but your reward for the added effort is variety and a greater sense of excitement and escapism.
Away from the traffic and the crowds, off-road outings are the perfect opportunity to shut off from the outside world and tune in to more natural surroundings. Here are some good reasons to take your running to the trails…
1. Stress relief
Running off-road – in the countryside, woods or mountains – puts you in a beautiful environment with greater variety. Research into sports psychology has shown that having this external stimulus can really help runners to relax and perform better, and a growing body of research is highlighting the power of ‘ecotherapy’, which can be summarised as the mind and body benefits of spending time in nature – particularly green spaces.
2. Mental release
Unlike road running, running off tarmac allows you to completely lose yourself in the moment, due to the need for 100 per cent focus. Because you’re constantly thinking: where’s my next foot position? Where’s the trail leading me? Uphill and downhill technique. What an incredible view and so on, trail running allows you to switch off from day-to-day worries – in a way that road running doesn’t.
3. Injury prevention
‘With each foot strike on a road or tarmac surface, you’re generally hitting the same muscles with the same foot strike over and over,’ says running coach Tom Craggs. ‘Getting off-road on mixed terrain will mean your gait and foot strike is slightly different each stride, allowing you to spread the impact over a great range of muscles, reducing your risk of injury.’
4. Full-body workout
‘By mixing firm, hard-packed trails with mud, flat routes and hills, you help to ensure your body works a much greater range of muscle groups – not just in your legs, but also the stabilising muscles in your core, feet and ankles,’ Craggs explains. ‘Simply put, hitting the trails will leave you a stronger runner, whether racing off-road or on-road.’
5. Heightened awareness
The term ‘trail running’ encompasses a huge range of terrain – some much more ‘technical’ than others. On the trickier routes, you will be required you to stay sharp and alert, as you might be hopping from rock to rock, watching out for tree roots or steep descents. ‘This alertness helps develop your sense of balance and movement, as well as developing faster foot strike and leg turn-over,’ says Craggs.
6. Improved lung health
Recent research has shown that running in polluted environments can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. While many runners don’t have a choice day to day, any time you can get out into the cleaner air of the open countryside, or even just in some of the big city parks, your lungs will thank you for it.
7. Greater instinct
With Strava and social media, it’s easy for runners to be stressed with performance anxiety before they even leave the door. With trail running, however, running to feel – rather than pace – is a much wiser tactic. Learning to judge your efforts based on your body’s feedback will make you stronger in the long-run.