TRAIL RUNNING MENTAL REFRESHER
Triathletes seem to love long, mundane slogs on paved roads. We love the consistency because we get direct and real feedback on pace, effort and the distance we have covered. Combine online platforms like Strava with the measurement devices like the various Garmin watches and you have a data feast fit for a Type A king.
But somewhere along the way we have lost touch with some of the purer aspects of distance running. There is so much to be gained by heading into the trails rather than slogging things out on the roads all the time. Trail running teaches and encourages us to deal with non-linear movement on different surfaces, which can decrease your risk of injury and help improve proprioception. Trail running also helps facilitate sport-specific strength and leads to significant physiological gains, especially when you run over hilly terrain. Finally, trail running is incredibly good for your mental well-being and your intuition as a runner.
Most endurance sports happen in a relatively straight line. Moving out of a that straight line, or linear plane, is rare when we swim, bike and run during a race or our triathlon training. This lack of variety can lead to problems. When your training doesn’t have any lateral movement, your risk for injury can actually increase and your proprioception can become less refined. Proprioception, in simple terms, is the body’s ability The unpredictable nature of trail running provides a great mental stimulus, too. Running off-road requires focus and a commitment to paying attention to what you’re doing. When you run exclusively on pavement there is a tendency to “zone out.” Furthermore, trail running gets you out of the city and into nature, which is an added mental bonus. You will rarely ever feel worse after running through the woods.
Dumping the data, on occasion, is also very good for the brain and great for your intuition. It has become commonplace to tie a number to everything we do. The trails force you to forget about the numbers because there is so much variation in speed and effort. You have to let go of your attachment to the data and get in touch with how you are actually feeling. Being a data junky is OK in doses, and certainly to refine your approach, but it does have some limitations. The numbers can hold you back when you might be able to squeeze more out of yourself. The numbers can also grab hold of your ego and pull you into efforts that may be too hard simply because you want to look good on Strava. These days, intuition is often underdeveloped, because measuring tools are so prevalent. You don’t have to know how you are feeling because your watch will tell you. We place so much value in the data that we are often lost if the computer fails. There is incredible value in having strong intuition. Going for an “organic” run in the woods, where you simply operate on feel, develops your intuition, which is far more valuable than a watch that tells you everything.
Trail running is full of physical, mental and physiological benefits, but it is also is good for your soul. Running through puddles, jumping over logs, making it to the top of a big climb and charging through the forest will bring out the kid in you, which is priceless and just plain fun.
Jasper Blake is a regular contributor to Triathlon Magazine Canada. He runs B78 Multisport Coaching at b78.is.