Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY JASPER BLAKE

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

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