Running on a flat, hard surface pounding the same step after step or running on a treadmill with no change of scenery can be boring, but trail running constantly offers something new to see and learn about.
Trail running provides an opportunity to improve your health physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It provides a way to get out and enjoy nature, clear your thoughts, and at the same time get a great workout.
My experience ranges from running the nature trails in the hills and mountains near my home to running the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, to numerous ultra marathons including a 100-mile endurance run.
There are plenty of benefits to trail running whether you are a novice just getting started or you are a veteran trail runner.
Three advantages of trail running:
1. Strengthens Different Muscles
Trailing running activates a wide range of muscle groups to compensate for the constant shifting of your body weight due to the ever-changing, rolling terrain. Your muscles, joints, and ligaments will be strengthened by incorporating trail running into your exercise routine.
As you maneuver the uneven surfaces to avoid obstacles, your core muscles strengthen for stability.
Trail running strengthens your quadriceps especially on the downhill descents as you attempt to slow the pull of gravity. As you traverse the hills, your glute muscles are used for power and lateral stability. Your calves get a good workout, too, with the technical navigating of the uneven, uphill terrain.
Trail running can make you faster overall, especially when training on steeper terrain as it produces better endurance for faster times on the flat.
2. Less Stress on Your Body
The consistent pounding when running on hard, flat surfaces can take a toll on your body especially your knees. Trails provide lower impact and softer surfaces than pavement resulting in fewer joint injuries, and strengthened muscles supporting leg stability.
When you run on trails, it forces you to improve your technique due to navigating the obstacles and uneven terrain. It naturally produces shorter, faster strides, and you land more on your forefoot or mid-foot and less on the heel reducing injury.
Trail running can lengthen the life of your running and improve the longevity of an enjoyable, healthy exercise.
3. Better for the Mind
Getting out in nature can be healing and calming to the soul. It is restorative and helps one focus on specific issues. It ignites feelings of connection with thoughts and energizes. Without the distractions of city road running, trail running in nature provides a great time to meditate and pray, giving an improved sense of tranquility and clarity of mind.
Running is known for the release of endorphins which is good for boosting energy and mood. While trail running there is less focus on time, which allows for mental break and more focus on your surroundings.
Trail running in the mountains can be soothing to the soul. In the San Diego area, I run to the summit of several, smaller mountains that give diverse scenic views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and cities with the ocean in the distance. These experiences heighten my sense of God’s amazing creativity and generate a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness, which energizes my soul.
Trail running especially on rocky, steep, hilly terrain is a great metaphor for living life with a purpose. One expends enormous amounts of energy, experience pain in the process and builds one’s endurance. One must navigate the obstacles, look ahead, step and adjust one’s steps in order to avoid tripping and falling. Reaching the summit is where one gets to enjoy the view, and relish in the accomplishment of a challenging run.
Like living life with a purpose, you face challenges in the pursuit of the goal, you need a vision for what lies ahead, patience, wisdom, and endurance to push through as you face the numerous obstacles life throws at you. When you fail, you get back up and keep going.
Trail running can take many forms from easy to moderate nature trails, to challenging steep mountain terrain. So no matter where you fall on the exercise spectrum, there is a trail for you. There is a great free app called Alltrails.com for locating a trail near you.
What do you find most beneficial about trail running? What has been your most interesting and exciting trail run experience?