Road to Trail Running - The Secret Benefits
Ask most people to think of a famous run and the usual response will be; The London Marathon, The Great North Run, or maybe even your local 10K. These are all urban, road based events, where large parts of the city are cordoned off. Events where runners of all abilities face down personal challenges or raise the flag for charity and in doing so complete something they may have once thought impossible. But ask people about a famous trail run and you might get quite a different response. It can sound technical, extreme, almost fanatical; something that is only for the super elite. But it could not be further from the truth, and luckily the perception of trail running is changing, with people of all abilities discovering a new way to get fit and improve their health.
WHAT IS TRAIL RUNNING?
Look up the word ‘trail’ in a dictionary and you may read; ‘A mark or a series of signs or objects left behind by the passage of someone or something: ‘a trail of blood on the grass’” – a bit daunting. Or from Google (verb) “…walk or move slowly or wearily” yes possibly true at times! Jokes aside though, a trail is basically an unpaved footpath. The important thing to realise is that when you step off the asphalt and onto the trail, the way you run can come alive. Maybe you are somebody who has always begrudged the monotony of running, or perhaps you are an experienced road master, either way the trails are out there and they will change the way you think about running forever.
HOW WILL IT HELP MY RUNNING?
Getting into trail running is easier than you may think and a countryside path, or trail around a city park is a good place to start. These changeable surfaces can build up strength and refine your technique, helping you to stay injury free for longer. When road running, the physical actions can become unchanging and repetitive, but trail running can be a stimulating, 3 dimensional experience. Watching out for the different surfaces, steep ups and downs, the scenery, the peace and quiet, all add to an experience that is both mentally and physically challenging. A strong core, positive foot placements, a good posture and quick reactions are just a few of the things that trail running will provide. Yes, like all forms of exercise it takes practice and a steady build up, but if you get it right the health benefits of trail running are significant. Not only will you be using more muscles, but the variety of terrain will also make you stronger and improve your endurance. Your joints will also thank you too as you move away from the hard impacts of the road surface. Even if you are a dedicated road runner, the trails can still offer a means of ramping up your training and improving your time. The benefits of trail running as an aid to your road running are widely recognised and most club runners will tell you how the cross-country season provides them with a lot of strength for the road and track season ahead.
DO I NEED SPECIALIST KIT?
Trail running is quite different to road running, the boundaries are gone and you’re free to explore. But as a result you do need to think about a few factors that will help your enjoyment. Those tired old road running shoes for example may not be ideal so depending on the conditions underfoot you’ll probably need some trail shoes. These can provide better heal support, strong soles and lots of grip in the slipperiest mud. If you are getting really confident then you might want to bring a map and compass, or even a running GPS. In the darker months it’s wise to carry a head torch just in case, as street lights don’t come as standard with footpaths! Like with all outdoor activities the further you go from home the more stuff you are likely to need. But for starters all you need is a good sturdy pair of running shoes and a willingness to explore, even if that simply means running through the park rather than around it. Once you feel the soft, bouncy ground under your feet, you will never want to jar your bones against asphalt again!
WHERE CAN I FIND A TRAIL?
Many people now live in increasing congested cities and consequently have to seek out the trails. However even in the sprawling mass of London there are parks littered with trails, and don’t forget that over 80% of the UK is considered to be ‘rural’. You may be surprised at how near you are to finding some trails and even if this means jumping in the car or on the bike to get away from the choking car fumes and packed streets, then it is certainly worth your time. The rewards are great and it’s much easier to get involved than you may have at first thought. So take a step on the wild side, you might like it!