Ever wanted to start trail running but weren’t quite sure if it was worth the effort? Trail running can be hugely valuable for runners and there are tons of reasons to get started. In this post, you’ll find the top 10 benefits of trail running.
What is trail running and why does it differ from road running?
Trail running is any form of running that isn’t on a paved surface (like a road) or a treadmill.
Often, it’s defined as being anywhere in nature. Woods, mountains, forests, rugged terrain and cliffs, are all examples of places to go trail running.
Trail running differs from road running because the terrain is constantly changing beneath your feet. Unlike the smooth, flat and consistent path in road running, trail running is characterised by tricky footholds, mounts of earth, bumps, twist, steep rises and descents, and a lot of nature to contend with.
Trail running is often defined as harder than road running because you need to focus much more on your footing. A wrong step at any point could result in injury. Therefore, trail runners often describe the sense of being in the ‘flow state.’
The flow state is where you’re completely immersed in a given task which is not too hard for you but it’s not too easy, resting just on the edge of your abilities so it’s a good challenge.
What do you need for trail running?
‘By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.’ – Benjamin Franklin
Trail running can expose you to a variety of challenging conditions that road runners don’t have to contend with.
Hills, uneven surfaces, forests, puddles, muddy paths, mountains, rocks and grass are all examples of the terrain which might be encountered. Add a weather condition like rain, hot sun, fog and even snow to these terrains, and the trail run becomes even more difficult.
In order to be fully prepared for trail running, it’s ideal to get kitted up with some trail running essentials. These include the following:
- Trail running shoes – To maintain proper grip and tackle uneven surfaces.
- Running backpack – To carry all your essentials like water, snacks and first aid kit.
- Sports glasses – To protect your eyes from both the sun and the mud, grit and dirt that the trail might like to throw at you.
- GPS Sports watch – To track your location for safety and for recording performance Particularly great on the trail for knowing how much elevation you’ve climbed.
- Quick fuel sources (energy gels, bars and sports sweets) – For a quick hit of energy on the go.
- Footcare products – To protect against blisters that start to develop mid-run.
- Water – To remain hydrated, particularly important for when you’re going deep into nature and there aren’t many nearby reliable water sources.
- Head torch – To ensure you can see where you’re going in reduced visibility conditions such as the early morning or late night.
- Mobile phone, waterproof case and portable charger – To ensure you have a method of contacting someone should you need to. The waterproof case will also protect your phone from unexpected rain and the charger will ensure you don’t get caught out by a lack of charge.
- Poles – Not deemed an essential by some trail runners, but some like these items for tricky ascents, descents, and when the ground is particularly unstable.
- Insect repellent – For keeping those pesky critters at bay.
- Sports sunscreen – To protect your skin from the suns UV rays on hot and sunny days.
- Technical sports clothing – To wick sweat and stay as dry as possible.
For more information, check out the following blog post:
What are the top 10 benefits of trail running?
1. More muscular legs
When you train in trail environments, you’ll stimulate greater leg muscle growth than on flat road terrain.
In order to encourage muscle growth in the legs, you need to target the large muscle fibres which are responsible for the majority of power and definition in your legs.
However, running on flat road surfaces only tends to target the slow twitch muscle fibres which are required for long distance.
On the other hand, the steep elevation gains found on the trail are excellent for stressing and developing the large muscle fibres in the legs.
Therefore, if you want to develop more muscular and powerful legs you should focus on running uphill. Something that’s more achievable on the trail.
2. Reduced joints and muscle strain
Common running injuries like shin splints and runners knee are often the result of continuous pavement pounding on the hard surfaces found in road running.
When trail running, there is reduced stress on the joints and muscles due to the soft ground underneath.
Needless to say, the likelihood of running injuries is greatly reduced and you’ll have reduced aches and pains experienced by road runners.
3. Working different muscle groups
Trail running is an experience characterised by environmental diversity and dynamic surfaces to run on.
During the runs you’ll be jumping over rocks, ducking under tree branches, keeping your balance on uneven ground, and jumping over obstacles, all of which will use a suite of different muscle groups in your lower and upper legs.
What’s more, your core will be heavily engaged as you work to keep balance and maintain strength during the workout.
4. Mental health benefits
Numerous studies have shown that just by being in nature, you can enjoy huge reductions in stress, fear, anger, worry and experience pleasant emotions in their place. Exposure to nature is one of the best stress relievers out there and it’s totally free.
Running on the trail is a great way to kill two birds with one stone; you get a powerful workout completed and you get to profit from the astounding mental health benefits. Why not kill three birds with one stone and bring some buddies along to socialise to?
5. Your brain gets a workout
When you run on a road, it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and switch off. The way forward is generally the same and there’s no sudden terrain changes to contend with.
On the other hand, trail running is the complete opposite. Focusing on the gains and descends, the nooks and the crannies, the rocks and the roots, and the steps and the slopes, all make trail running a workout for your brain. Trail running will certainly keep you on your mental toes.
6. Variety in your running
As poet William Cowper said, ‘variety is the spice of life.’
When you run on the same old roads day in day out, it can be easy to get bored quickly. With trail running, there always be new things to experience.
In trail running you’ll absorb new sights, sounds, smells and sensations, as you embark on an adventure into nature each and every run.
What’s nice about trail running is that you can get totally different experiences running through the same trail depending on the time of year.
One of my personal favourite moments of trail running is when I get to see wild animals in their natural habitat. I’m a running David Attenborough in the making!
7. A unique sense of achievement
There’s a very particular unique sense of achievement that follows a trail running workout. Knowing that you’ve done something different and taken a workout through mother nature is a special feeling.
Unlike road running which usually feels like you’ve just run from one point to another, trail running is an experience of natural immersion where you often see tonnes of different environments. There’s always a feeling of having achieved something special at the end of trial workouts.
8. Fresh air
Something that’s really nice about trail running, especially for those that live in the hustle and bustle of city life, is the crisp fresh air.
It’s nice getting away from polluted city centres to get into nature where you can literally feel how much cleaner the air is in your lungs.
I’ve got a friend who is asthmatic yet when we go for a run in the woods, he always feels like he can actually breathe properly. The fresh air of the trail is an incredible benefit of running in this environment.
9. Fresh sounds
If you’re able to go deep enough into the trail, you’ll notice that the only sounds you hear are sounds coming from mother nature herself.
On the trail, you often hear a natural orchestra of sounds ranging from animals, the trees, rivers and streams, twigs snapping and the rustle of the wind.
Hearing only fresh sounds is nice because it gives us as modern-day humans a unique chance to reconnect with our primordial roots of how we have evolved to hear. This can be a nice break from the sound of cars and machines in built up areas.
10. It’s incredibly fun
Trail running is one of the most fun things you can do in life, let alone running.
Whether you’re climbing a mountain, hopping across forest streams or keeping your balance on woodland paths, trail running is an absolute joy.
If you want to make lasting and meaningful memories as a runner, I’d recommend you make a habit of trail running at least once a week. If you can do more, fantastic.