by Anna Fletcher
Picture this: you’re tearing through the woods, bounding over tree roots, leaping over fallen logs, swerving right and left through bushes and branches. Your breathing is rapid and quick, and your eyes are focused on the trail in front of you. You hear the birds chatter, and occasionally a squirrel darts into your peripherals as you race uphill and downhill. Are you chasing a rabbit? Are you escaping from a swarm of bees? Are you Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans? No – you’re trail running. And it is awesome.
Not only does trail running fulfill your primal need to race through the wilderness like a mad man, it’s really good for you too. For one thing, the surface is much better on your body. Concrete and pavement are super high impact and can be hard on your knees, feet and joints. Running on a surface like dirt is much softer and forgiving on your pounding feet. You’ll also better tone those muscles that stabilize your lower legs and absorb the impact forces. All of these things result in fewer impact-related injuries like hurt IT bands and shin splints. And for those of us who suffer from frequent shin splints, it would be really really great if they could just not happen anymore!
The unevenness of the trail keeps things interesting. Would you rather run laps around an unexciting clay track or scamper through the woods like a little woodland elf? (Answer: elf) Timing your strides to dodge rocks and jump roots gives you something to think about other than how out of breath you are, and the uphill and downhill changes in the trail will give you all the benefits of hill running, like building speed, strength and endurance. Plus, the views that you will see on your run are reason enough to go.
Trail running is also a great way to work on your running form. The proper way to run is to contact the ground first with the front half of your foot (also called mid-foot landing, where you land on the middle of your foot and roll up through your toes). All runners know the golden rule: Don’t land on your heel!! This will allow you to move quicker, accelerate faster and keep you from over-striding, which wastes energy and may injure you.
Since you’re literally running through the woods, you are in an oxygen-rich setting. This provides the best environment for running, as you get to escape the carbon monoxide of car-congested, city roads into a minimally polluted area. And it’s not just oxygen that the trees are good for – they shade you from the hot sun, shelter from rain, and block winter winds, making your run more enjoyable in all seasons.
Gotta run with your four legged BFFL? Trails are a treat for dogs, too! They will have more things to see and smell, and they will feel right in their element just like you, oh wild one. Corral your pup, grab a reCollar and reLeash and hit the ground running (literally). I’m sure they have a thing or two to teach you about trail running.
Finding a trail to run in your area is pretty easy too! Just go to TrailLink.com, type in your city or, if you know it, the name of the trail you’re looking for and scroll through the list to find the perfect running trail for you! You can even specify what kind of surface you would like, such as dirt, grass, woodchips or gravel.