Running is at an all-time high in popularity; you don’t need to look far to find a fellow pounder of the pavement. Racing is also booming like never before, especially marathons. Along with all that, trail running and ultra racing are gaining new fans all the time.
If you’ve never ventured onto the trails before, you’re missing out. There are so many reasons to give it a go. One reason to consider adding trail running into your repertoire, even if you aren’t planning to ever run an ultra, is that it gives your body a much needed break. Trail running requires more muscles and agility than its blacktop counterpart. It’s also a softer surface, so the pounding isn’t quite as intense.
Another bonus to trail running is that it can serve as quite the hill workout. Most trails involve a lot of climbing and descending, allowing you to pack in all the benefits of a hill repeat session without the monotony. I have a friend with a state park in her backyard. She trains almost exclusively on trails, yet races on the road. No one, and I mean no one, can keep up with her on the climbs!
If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider the beauty of a trail. Many include streams or rivers, wildlife you wouldn’t find elsewhere, and a quiet peace that is lacking on suburban, city, or even rural roads. When you’re out there, you can tap into your senses and even get a nostalgic dose of childhood as you move throughout the woods.
Sold? Then plan an outing to a nearby state park or trail. Before you go in, though, keep these tips in mind:
- Never run trails alone—you can get lost, get hurt, or if you are female, have to worry about the very rare but real threat of violence.
- Carry water—Again, you may end up lost, so have some water on hand just in case.
- Plan your run—the best defense against getting lost is knowing the trails you’ll be entering and how to stay on track. Most are marked with small color-coded paint splotches on trees or small “flags” hanging from branches to help you stay on track.
- Consider pair of trail shoes. Not a necessity, but if you do start running trails frequently, you might like having the extra traction and waterproof qualities that trail shoes offer.
- Plan to get dirty—even dry trails will throw dirt onto your legs; if the ground is wet, you’ll be a real mess when you finish up. But that’s part of the fun.
- Plan to fall—it happens to just about everyone at one point or another. A tree root or rock that you hit at the wrong angle might just trip you up. Just stop, take a few deep breaths, and ease your way back into a rhythm.
Once you get started, I can just about guarantee you’ll be hooked. I try to incorporate a weekly trail run into my routine just to keep it fun and give my body a break. These days, trail races are creeping onto my schedule about as much as road races. I can tell you I’m having more fun than ever with my running!