HAIL THE TRAIL
Take your running off-road to become fitter, stronger and more resilient
While trail running can be tougher and slower going than pavement pounding, your reward for the added effort is invariably a greater sense of excitement and escapism. Away from the traffic and the crowds, off-road outings are the perfect opportunity to shut off from the outside world and tune in to more natural surroundings.
REASONS TO TRAIL RUN
Take your running off-road to bolster both body and mind...
Running off-road – in the countryside, woods or mountains – puts you in a beautiful environment with greater variety. Research into sports psychology has shown that having this external stimulus can help runners relax and perform better, and a growing body of research is highlighting the power of ‘ecotherapy’, which can be summarised as the mind and body benefits of spending time in nature – particularly green spaces.
Unlike road running, running off tarmac allows you to completely lose yourself in the moment, due to the need for 100 per cent focus. Because you’re constantly thinking, where’s my next foot position? Where’s the trail leading me? Uphill and downhill technique. Look at that view and so on, trail running allows you to switch off from day-to-day worries – in a way that road running doesn’t.
“With each foot strike on a road or tarmac surface, you’re generally hitting the same muscles with the same foot strike over and over,” says running coach Tom Craggs. “Getting off-road on mixed terrain will mean your gait and foot strike is slightly different each stride, allowing you to spread the impact over a wider range of muscles, reducing your risk of injury.”
“By mixing firm, hard-packed trails with mud, flat routes and hills, you help to ensure your body works a much greater range of muscle groups – not just in your legs, but also the stabilising muscles in your core, feet and ankles,” Craggs explains. “Simply put, hitting the trails will make you a stronger runner.”
The term ‘trail running’ encompasses a huge range of terrain – some much more ‘technical’ than others. On the trickier routes, you will be required to stay sharp and alert, as you might be hopping from rock to rock, watching out for tree roots or steep descents. “This alertness will develop your sense of balance and movement, as well as faster foot strike and leg turn-over,” says Craggs.
Recent research has shown that running in polluted environments can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. While many runners don’t have a choice day to day, any time you can get out into the cleaner air of open countryside, or even just in some of the big-city parks, your lungs will thank you for it.
With Strava and social media, it’s easy for runners to be stressed with performance anxiety before they even leave the door. With trail running, however, running to feel – rather than pace – is a much wiser tactic. Learning to judge your efforts based on your body’s feedback will make you stronger in the long-run.