Just one of those days this morning that no route that popped into my head had me excited to run. Even with the recent days off due to the this (slowly) improving cold, nothing felt right. I was also struggling to come up with a purpose for the workout beyond just the miles. I didn’t want to really push it with progressions, intervals or hills and risk backsliding on this cold. Nature eventually provided the answer: trails.
A trail run was just what the doctored ordered. It would get me out of a rut, away from concentrating on pace and still give me a good workout.
Even if you don’t plan on doing any trail races, running regularly on trails can help improve and strengthen your road running.
Here are the four reasons I like to mix trails into my workout plan.
1. Fewer Injuries
First, and most obviously, the softer ground of trails is just easier on the legs and joints. Trails are a great way to get recovery miles in after hard road workouts.
Running on the roads in repetitive by definition. It’s one foot after the other and even with the best cadence you can be at risk for a repetitive injury just by the nature of the sport.
Trails are more varied in terrain and force you to constantly change your gait and stride and avoid those overly repetitive workouts.
2. Improved Technique
It seems almost counterintuitive, but the undulating and changing terrain of trail running is great for focusing on stride and technique. The fact that you need to stay focused on the terrain and take shorter strides to avoid routes and maintain balance force your feet to land more directly underneath your body.
Running on the roads more like trails can improve cadence and lessen ground impact forces through your legs, all of which can help reduce the chances of injuries.
3. Mental Break
Just being off the roads, away from cars, exhaust and civilization can be a good stress reliever and lead to an improved workout.
You will also find that running on trails is more about time and less about pace. You learn to run more by feel and effort for your workout and less by the Garmin. It can be another good mental break from technology.
4. Hidden Hills
Trail running can almost be like hiding extra veggies for your kids in the meatloaf. Trails often have many hills, so a trail workout can often almost double as a hill workout before you even know you’re doing one.
Finally, the frequent turns, elevation changes, and obstacles work the big muscles but also really work those smaller stabilizers that can get neglected on the roads. All of it can help create a more balanced, athletic runner.
Today was just a rut buster. I wanted to get out and run for about an hour. I warmed up with 2-3 miles on the roads leading to the trails. Then did another 3 miles on trails. You can see where my pace starts to really fluctuate when I hit the trails!