Now that the weather is warming up, it will become much more tempting to jump off that treadmill and opt for an outdoor run. If you can’t wait to get back outside, you may want to try trail running.
The number of trail runners in the United States increased from 4.5 million to more than 6 million between 2006 and 2012, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Foundation. Some appreciate getting closer to nature, while others may like the lower-impact surfaces. Some just like solitude.
Top tips for trail-running newbies
But before you lace ’em up and head for a trail, there are a few things for novices to know.
“There are many differences, actually,” said Stacey McConnell, a St. Elizabeth Healthcare physical therapist and avid runner. “The training is different. The equipment is different.
“There are people who like running on the road who don’t like trail running, and trail runners who don’t care for running on the road.”
Trail running requires good balance to deal with obstacles; McConnell said to shorten your stride to keep your weight centered over your feet. “It’s important to keep your feet underneath you,” he said. “Changing direction quickly can challenge your balance.”
While many high school cross-country runners wear spikes, McConnell suggested investing in a pair of trail shoes. “They’re a bit stiffer, so you don’t feel the rocks and twigs and branches, and they’re sometimes a little more waterproof, too,” he said.
Reduce your injuries
Trail-running advocates say the surfaces, while uneven, are more forgiving than pavement, which translates into fewer injuries, and McConnell said he sees more injuries from road runners.
“It’s a good question; I think trail running may force you at times to be slower and more careful,” McConnell said.
“It requires you to be strong, and balanced in your joints, so if you’re a trail runner you may be a little stronger. And if you’re running in the woods, maybe you’re looking to slow down a little and enjoy it. It’s possible those are all good things that may keep you from getting hurt.”
Should I start trail running?
If that appeals to you, McConnell says give it a try. But you’ll still find him running on the roads. “I’ve tried it and don’t enjoy it, which surprised me,” said McConnell, who’s completed more than 20 marathons. “I can’t relax enough.
“But that’s just me. If you can slow down, enjoy it, maybe find a friend to go with you, trail running can be a great activity.”
McConnell’s last thoughts:
- For high-school runners: “Kids running cross country are doing a 5K. Many of the biggest meets are later in the fall, so it’s important to build your mileage carefully to reach your goals. Going out and running 10 miles early is a good way to get hurt.”
- For the rest of us: “You’ll see a lot of kids on training runs on the sidewalks and streets at this time of year. Remember to be aware of them at intersections and give them time to cross.”