Whether you are a well-seasoned runner or just beginning, it can be a great idea to open your mind to all kinds of running. While taking off down the road is a sure-fire way to get the job done, you can completely revitalize and experience running in a way you haven’t before if you decide to take it to the trails and give off-road running a shot. This way of running is different and requires some preparation in the beginning but can provide many benefits you may miss out on when running around the streets.
Trails are a drastic change in environment and vary in types of terrain from state to state. Where you live, for example, may be completely flat, filled with sand, and close to sea level. Someone else might be living in the mountains and face steep terrain, rocks, and altitude. No matter the terrain, the benefits of trail running will be felt. If you’re a little uneasy with taking it straight to the trails or are dealing with an injury but still want to get out, there are park trails and paved trails that can still get you the off-road experience without actually having to go off-road. These trails usually don’t require any preparation. The following is everything you need to know about off-road running!
You might want to consider some new shoes
Typical running shoes may not provide enough support for off-road running. If you’re planning to run trails often, investing in a pair of shoes specifically designed for trail running can pay off in the long run. Try your running shoes out first and see how you feel about them, if they work for you, no need to buy new ones! If however, you feel like you need more support, here is what you can look for when shopping around for new ones:
- Grip- Slick, smooth, and wet surfaces can put you at risk for injury. Remember, “Good grip, no slips!”
- Can they handle dirt, mud, and water? If you are running in swampy areas or plan to cross a lot of creeks you may want shoe made from mesh. These air out more easily.
- Cushion- Running across rocky terrain can be tough- literally. Shoes with more cushion will help protect your feet and allow you to more easily navigate difficult terrain.
- For some, less is more- If you want to face the elements head on there are shoes for that too! Try on a pair of “toe shoes” and see how you feel. These get you as close to barefoot as you can while adding some protection.
Keep in mind that comfort here is the most important thing. Choose the shoe that is right for you- not the salesman or your off-roading friends.
Don’t sweat changes in speed
If you’re used to timing yourself and analyzing speed, remember that trail running is different than road running. On the road, it’s easy to compare times and gauge your average/best speeds but when you take things off-road, it changes. You are at the whim of the elements and may get held up by a steep hill or some rocky terrain. That time is not usually made up on the downhill and that’s ok! Be gentle with yourself. A 5-mile run across unsteady terrain will feel harder and require more energy output from your muscles than a 5-mile run on the road. Do yourself a favor and get rid of whatever you’re using to track pace. Try using a heart rate monitor instead and use that to measure your efforts.
Become familiar with the territory and maximize safety
When you figure out the area you will be running in, there are some things you can do to maximize safety:
- Let a trusted source know of your location and estimated time away
- Get a running partner
- Familiarize yourself with the terrain so you know what to expect
- Look into what kinds of wildlife you could run into on the trail such as bears or poisonous plants
- Get a GPS in case you get lost- you never know and it is better to be safe than sorry
- On a long run bring adequate supplies like water, snacks, first aid, or anything else you may need
- Grab a trail map if available
- Look for trail markers to keep you on track
Trail running puts you at an increased risk for injury. It can not be said enough to familiarize yourself with the trails you are running and be prepared for anything.
When you start trail running your interest in nature may increase. Consider running in a National or State Park that has access to camping or a peaceful cabin. There’s nothing quite like working your tail off to end up relaxing on a porch at a cabin in the middle of the woods. Grab your friends and inspire them to do the same or create friendly competitions to see who can make it up the hill the fastest. There are also a number of more official off-road challenges you can participate in if you want to take it to the next level.
Above all things, have fun and take in the nature around you!
Benefits of running in nature include:
- Working more muscles and strengthening areas of the body weaker in those that don’t run trails such as the ankles and feet
- Lower impact on joints
- You are required to stay focused
- Scenic views are therapeutic and promote emotional and physical well-being
- You release more “feel-good” endorphins and may frequently experience a whole new kind of runners high
- You get a break from the office and the busy city life
- The woods provide cleaner air for you to breathe
After you start trail running regularly you may find it hard to go back to running on the road. You may also find that your cardiovascular system improves drastically and you can run hills and navigate difficult terrain like a pro. Remember these things; take it easy in the beginning, acquire necessary safety equipment and knowledge of the terrain you are running, and enjoy the view!