By Derrick Spafford
Trail running isn’t just for ultra-marathon types looking to spend long, slow hours off the roads. Canadian road and track runners are increasingly turning to trail running as part of their regular running routine.
There are many great benefits to running on trails. It gives the body a break from all the pounding on surfaces like asphalt and concrete. Even with good quality running shoes, our bodies are not designed to run on these hard, unnatural surfaces. Specificity in running is very important, so if you plan to race on the roads or track, some training on those surfaces is necessary. But including some running on softer surfaces will give your legs a break from pounding the pavement, and help prevent overuse injuries. Aside from the physical benefits, trail running is really about fun. Getting muddy while tearing through the woods, up mountains and across streams is bound to take you back to your childhood and add more playfulness to a sometimes rigid and demanding running routine.
Time vs. distance
When making the switch to trail running, there will be a significant difference in pace from running on roads. Trail surfaces tend to be much slower due to uneven and hilly terrain, so many runners find it helpful to log their trail runs in minutes instead of kilometres.
Although trail running reduces the amount of pounding on your body, there are a few potential risks. Rocks and roots can be hidden under leaves and surprise you if you’re not careful. It’s vital to pay close attention to the trail to avoid a nasty ankle roll, or tumble. Some basic lower-leg strengthening exercises can help to make your transition to the trail smoother. Try writing the alphabet in the air a few times a day with each foot, or do some single leg balancing drills.
Trail running shoes are not an absolute necessity, but on technical trails the added protection offers an advantage. Trail running shoes have special features such as: a lower profile and slightly firmer midsole to prevent you from rolling your ankles; a flexible rock guard so you won’t feel sharp rocks or roots through your shoes; an aggressive tread pattern for traction on rocks, grass, dirt and mud; and a breathable and protective upper. Even with all of this protection, some of the newer models are surprisingly light and nimble (see the previous issue of Canadian Running for our full trail shoe review).
Trail racing is the fastest-growing segment of our sport as more runners look for new challenges. Longer-distance trail races like Ontario’s Run for the Toad (25K and 50K) are selling out months in advance, even with a cap of over 1,000 runners. So whether your goal is to reduce injuries, add a little spice to your training, or explore a challenging new race experience, why not give trail running a try? The trails are calling.