The Benefits of Trail Running Training

Trail running training means becoming a stronger runner while experiencing nature - the perfect combination of physical, mental and spiritual stimulation. Other than the obvious benefits of no concrete, pavement and car exhaust, trail running training can provide you with many other perks.

Trail running is much more than just a change in scenery – it’s a completely different way to train. It can literally open up to you an entirely new sport of exploration and fitness. While often not as widely advertised, there are almost as many if not more trail events as there are road races around the world which often offer rugged and unique challenges and exhilarating experiences. These range from 5k jaunts through the woods to 100 mile or more ultra marathons.

If you have been road running and are new to trail running training, a few minor adjustments may be required.

One is learning to run more by time rather than pace and distance. Road running on measured routes offers the complete awareness of how far and how fast you’ve come. You always know exactly what to write down on your training log(a real stressor for some runners).

Unless your trail is clearly marked and measured, venturing out onto your local trails offer a lot of wonderful unknowns including exactly how far you’ve gone. GPS watches have come a long way, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that works well in tree covered trail systems. You can estimate your pace, but often there many little obstacles to get around (or through) like mud puddles, trees, roots and unusually steep hills. Needless to say, your pace will most typically be slower on trails. Unless you are a complete beginner however, you’ll have a general idea of your pace based on your perceived effort. So this is simply something to accept and recognize that you will be getting a great workout with lots of variety in place knowing exactly how far and fast you’re running.

Trail running training offers a wide variety of terrain and therefore demands on many of your supporting ligaments and musculature not often utilized during straight road running. You will become a stronger runner due to this enhanced use and hence strengthening of stabilizer muscles throughout your trail running training period. Specifically, your ankle and feet muscles as well as your abductors and adductors get recruited for use frequently from side to side hopping and leaping motions. Of course, there is probably no better way to enjoy running hills than running through a hilly trail. When you are new to trails, you may wake up many tiny muscles that you weren’t previously activating by road and treadmill running. If you have access to trails, whenever possible experiment with different routes of varying difficulties to reap these benefits.

Trail running is also mentally and spiritually stimulating. The bush is always changing. Trees grow and die. Plants and flowers blossom and wildlife is constantly on the move. Trail running provides you the opportunity to experience the changes of life and seasons first hand. Every now and again, I am awakened by an unexpected sound or startled animal scurrying away which spikes my heart rate and gets my adrenaline going. If you’re lucky enough to have a k9 running companion, little compares to the satisfaction of observing your dog bound through the bush taking in all of the sights and smells with complete and utter joy.

Get Ready to Hit the Trails

Here are a few key trail running training tips to ensure your experience is safe and enjoyable:

Buddy Up – there is a difference between well marked groomed trails located within the city and remote trails. Whenever possible take a partner – if not for company, for safety.

Bring Extra – extra gels, more water than you think you need, a small protein bar. If you think you're disciplined enough, bring your cell phone if it works where you're going.

Communicate Your Route – It’s not as uncommon as you think to get lost even in a familiar area. Add some glycogen depletion to the mix causing some confusion and panic can set in. While exploring off-shoots of the main path is exciting, take solid mental note of your surrounding when you deviate and consider splitting your watch . This way, you’ll know exactly how long you’ve gone from the turn and how long it will take to get back if you turn around. Either way – always tell someone when and where you are going. If you live alone, a good idea, might be to put where you're going on facebook...just in case.

Consider Trail Shoes – Trail shoes are not essential but can enhance your trail running experience by providing a bit more support and grip than road running shoes. Particularly, if you’re looking to race well on trail systems. Trail shoes differ from regular running shoes by providing a stiffer last for rocks and stumps. They also typically have a stiffer upper for ankle roll support as well as aggressive grip. There are many brands on the market and beware that like shoes of all types, not all are created equal. Ask around and read trail shoes reviews to get a good sense of what’s out there and what works for others. My absolute favourite today are the salomon speed cross. They are super light, have quick lace system and killer grips. Not to mention, they make great every day wares when you decide to retire them from the trails:)

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