My wife was furious. We were 4 miles into a 3-mile trail run and she had just lost her shoe in the mud. I told her we were almost there, and prayed that I was right. Moments later, through a cloud of ravenous black flies, a faded trail sign appeared. We found our way back to the trailhead and before our water bottles were empty, we made plans to do it again. Welcome to trail running.
Here are some benefits of trail running:
Mixing it up
Top running coaches will tell you that running 100% of your miles on hard paved surfaces can lead to injury. The camber of the road combined with the repetitive pounding on an unforgiving surface can lead to stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and shin splints. Running on grass, gravel, woodchips, or pine needles can save your legs and add longevity to your running career.
Seek Safety and Solitude
I worry about being hit by a car almost every time I run on the road. At 6’ 4” and 175 lbs., I can easily appear to be a tree trunk when running in the shadows. Drivers blinded by a setting sun, distracted by oncoming traffic, or by balancing a coffee cup on the top of their steering wheel have veered across the white lines and into my space on the edge of the road more times than I can count.
Running on the trails is relatively worry-free by comparison. Occasionally I’ll see another runner or walker with a dog off-leash. Or, I might run into some brambles or poison ivy. But, generally speaking, the trails offer runners both solitude and safety. Trail runners enjoy a more peaceful and pure experience, free from the loud, noxious vehicles that dominate the roads.
Playing in the Woods
When is the last time you went exploring? Some of my favorite childhood memories came from days spent exploring acres of virgin forest behind my home. I’d grab a snack and head outside to discover new places and create imaginary worlds full of heroic feats and uncertain survival.
As adults, we still need time to play. Trail running allows us to unwind, let go of everyday stress, and rediscover the thrill of running wild through the woods. Running on a new trail is like opening a gift, or reading the first few pages of a book by your favorite author. The thrill of the unexpected, and the promise of adventure lie just beyond the treeline.
Avoiding the Treadmill
The treadmill is an awful machine that will eventually kill your spirit and end your enthusiasm for the sport of running. This winter, if the weather forecast shows frigid temperatures and heavy snow, celebrate! Grab your trail shoes, or a pair of snowshoes, and make tracks to the nearest trailhead.
Winter weather may seem daunting, but if you wear the right gear you’ll be warm and comfortable. Some of my best races have been in temperatures as low as 17℉. Running outside is the only way to truly experience the joy of running.
Philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau once said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” The pristine beauty of the outside world is simply waiting for us to appreciate it. It exists all around us, and yet we often miss it as we hurry from place to place. Find the nearest wooded trail, grassy park, or narrow foot path and discover how wonderful it is to run free.
Jason is a competitive marathon runner and RRCA distance running coach. He's the senior editor at SaltmarshRunning.com, and writes for several online health and fitness publications. When he's not running on the roads and trails, Jason can be found enjoying life with his family and friends on the New Hampshire seacoast.
Main Photo Credit: Daxiao Productions/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Blazej Lyjak/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Vereshchagin Dmitry/shutterstock.com