Trail running’s heaps of fun, but it’s not just spoonfuls of cardio – running trails is good for you in many interesting ways, from your abs to your brain, and it’s a great way to get a nature fix along with your workout.
With all the recent hype about ultras* and mountain running, it’s easy to look at the peak athletes of the sport and think that you’ll never do something mental like run 100km or trot over the Alps.
Luckily, you don’t have to. Trail running is simply running on a trail. Anyone can do it and gain a shedload of benefits from the get-go. The real reason people start running longer distances isn’t to find some hidden elixir of life — they run a long way because running is actually god damn fun.
*Ultras – Ultramarathons: races longer than a typical marathon (42.195km), often on trails.
More Fitness Than Road Running
Ok, it might seem obvious, but trail running makes you fit. What’s interesting is that it can challenge your fitness more than road running, with more muscles working over rough terrain, greater variations in elevation and twistier trails, you’ll be working much harder to run close to the same distance and pace as you would on tarmac. It’s also way more interesting, which can help you push that little bit harder.
Pro Tip: You’re allowed to walk up steep sections. It’s probably quicker than running and less tiring. Put your hand on your legs, head down and power up, even the pros do it!
Core And Leg Strength
As well as the benefit of overall fitness, is the actual strength of your muscles. One of the hidden benefits of trail running is that on uneven terrain your core has to hold you stable. In fact, if you watch good runners fly over rocks, you’ll see that their hips stay pretty centred while their legs do the moving around.
By flexing and pushing on different angles all the time, the muscles and tendons in your legs and feet are activated and strengthened. On tarmac you’re much more likely to get a repetition injury from doing the same shit all the time.
Apart from being more interesting, the trails your run on are also less hard. Dirt, gravel, grass and sand all have some give in them; this usually means that your legs have to work a bit harder, but your feet also don’t pound into something quite so solid, sending shocks through your entire body and causing injuries.
As “runner guy” Joe Grant says, “Pushing yourself, that struggle, it’s this elective, arbitrary thing we make up”. The fact that we could stop any time often makes it even harder to keep going. By pushing yourself onwards you’re training your brain to not give up, to deal with the highs and lows of mental states on the track and stay focused — these skills transfer to all parts of life.
On trails you usually have a specific mountain to run over and enough variation to keep your brain interested. Beats the footpath!
Train As Hard As You Want
Don’t take your running too seriously. If there’s one thing I learnt from interviewing Joe Grant and Lucy Bartholomew (both epic ultramarathon runners) it’s that running for fun has to stay a massive part of why you get out there.
Ditch the GPS tracker, take out your headphones or go with a friend. Trail running isn’t hitting a treadmill — it’s more than numbers, average pace and elevation gain — it’s taking time out, alive and spending time in nature.
There’s a simplicity to running that not many sports can match. Grab some shoes, a water bottle, and move through the bush under your own power. There’s nothing quite like it.
Safety Tip: If you’re heading out alone it’s probably best to take a phone and tell people where you’re going, just make sure you put it on silent!
Read more here about How To Stay Safe In The Bush (And Keep Your Mum Happy).
Enjoy Beautiful Areas Quickly
Sure, trail running is a meditative experience, listen to the birds, drink from a stream, we get it. On the flipside, it’s a bloody good way to cram in a lot of nature-viewing in a short amount of time. Dawn runs through a valley, lookout linkups, swimming-in-as-many-waterfalls-as-possible-in-a-day, trail running’s your guy (or gal, depending on how you like to personify your adventure sports).