The answer to the question “why trail running” probably needs the answer to “why running” first. I will assume that this is a question that you have answered for yourself and you are considering reasons to expand your running to include trail running.
4. Less soreness
I will admit, I didn’t enjoy my first trail running experience. I couldn’t get a rhythm, had to focus on the trail to prevent a fall and it felt hard for someone so used to roads. It was only the next day that I realized how special the trails were, only to later learn I had barely scratched the surface on this. The day after my first trail run I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t sore at all.
I will also assume telling you that “trail running is awesome” is probably not going to be enough here, but believe me, it is!
Whilst this is just one example, most runners agree that the very varied nature of trail running and the resultant less repetitive motion means significantly less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a trail run. This is because unlike running on a flat, paved surface, trails generally have terrain that means significant variance in stride and thus slightly different muscle activation patterns.
Being less sore makes running much more enjoyable, it also allows you to train that bit harder if you are so inclined. As you will read a little later in this article, it is also a part of being less likely to be injured, something that is a serious problem for runners.
Quoted numbers vary, but it is accepted that most runners have an injury that causes them to miss training time in a calendar year! So anything to reduce this is a huge benefit, unfortunately, despite lots of research, broad recommendations to reduce running injuries are pretty sparse, but these include varying surfaces/terrain, managing load, and strength training.
3. Biophilia and Forest Bathing
According to a theory of biologist E. O. Wilson “Biophilia” is the innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.
Put more simply, you feel better when you spend time in nature. Interestingly scientists have studied people who spend time in nature and have found many health benefits, including: lowered blood pressure, less stress, and overall greater feelings of health.
Check out a book or a scientific paper on the topic.
Time in nature is so important and recognized as such, that there is a Japanese phenomenon called “Forest Bathing” which effectively entails spending time in nature, to improve health (read more).
Running itself is a powerful health improvement tool but this is augmented when it is done in nature. Beyond this, I would suggest time in nature is in itself enjoyable, with very few people who would disagree. In a world where people are becoming busier and busier, I would suggest combining your running with time in nature is a highly efficient way to improve your health significantly.
2. Better running
Trail running is perfect for all runners. It makes a long run more enjoyable, gets you out into nature, and more importantly helps your strength (particularly in your feet and ankles). This variety of running assists in preventing monotony, one of the few factors significantly associated with an injury. Reduced injury rates are of the utmost importance. Aside from nobody enjoying being injured, injury-free training time is correlated with running success. Read more.
Aside from these benefits, you will generally find that you run with better rhythm and the road feels easier with the contrast of the opposite in trail running. These factors coupled with trails that have some hills usually mean when it comes time to run on the road and a hill presents itself, you move up it with much greater ease and significantly more smoothly. This is only positive in your running, let alone with a race goal in mind.
1. More mindful
The very nature (see what I did there?) of trail running and the need to concentrate on foot placement amongst other things means that it is much more of a mindful activity than road running. Unlike road running where the mind can wander, trail running very much makes you zone in and makes the outside world melt away. In this vein, most trail runners would agree, it is much easier to experience “flow” or be “in the zone” when out on trail compared to road running.
If you are looking to try and build a habit of trail running this article can definitely be adapted to trail running: https://www.mayamaya.ch/customer-relationship/news/how-get-motivation-start-running. You should also check out the “How to start Trailrunning” article.
So, go hit the trails, you will be less sore, stronger, less injured, in better health and generally happier for some time in nature exercising.
Written by: Dr. David Lipman, Podiatrist and Exercise Physiologist