Trail running is defined as any run that occurs "off road," such as on dirt or gravel paths through the woods or on a mountainside. This type of running has been gaining popularity in the last decade and continues to be a new adventure for seasoned road runners.
What are the benefits of trail running?
Besides being fun and exciting, trail running has many health benefits. The surfaces of a trail run are generally more porous than concrete and are therefore easier on our joints, aiding in preventing overuse injuries. Trails offer a variety of terrain and inclines, incorporating strength training into your cardiovascular exercise. This strength training will occur in major muscle groups and in stabilizing muscle groups, improving balance and coordination. The varied surfaces will also help to improve proprioception, agility, and mental focus.
Where do I start?
Trail running incorporates high elevations and changing surfaces, making it a challenge for anyone who is just starting out running on a trail. This makes it imperative that you introduce trails slowly, choosing trails with less elevation and more consistent surfaces at first. One of the most common mistakes runners make when beginning trail running is running for pace, not for perceived exertion. The various surfaces and obstacles of a trail run will cause a slower pace, so it is important to run at an easy to moderate running speed rather than focusing on how quickly you can complete the trail. It is recommended that you begin with 1-2 days of trail running each week and gradually increase the frequency as you become more comfortable. Since muscular strength plays an important role in this type of running, you should complete a full-body strength training program 1-2 days a week in addition to your trail runs.
Trail Running Safety Tips
It is important to think "safety first" during every exercise session, and that's no different for trail running. Here are some safety tips for you to consider before hitting the trail.
- Choose your trail wisely - Choose shorter, more flat trails to begin with and avoid trails with obstacles that you aren't prepared to tackle
- Check the weather - Be prepared for anything Mother Nature may throw your way; bring sun screen and appropriate clothing
- Fuel your body - Bring a small pack for water and snacks. Be sure to bring enough water to hydrate during and after your run.
- Stay focused - Letting your mind wander can cause distraction leading to trips, falls, and possible injuries.
- Don't go alone - Find a running buddy and always run together. If you are going on a solo run, make sure you tell people where you will be and how long you plan to be out.
Breana Veckov earned her BS in Exercise Science from Slippery Rock University and her MS in Exercise Science in Exercise Science and Health Promotion at California University of Pennsylvania. She is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. Through her career, she has strengthened her passion for guiding others to a higher level of wellness. She loves being active, especially when it involves being outdoors with her golden retriever.