A few years ago, I motivated myself into running by signing up for a mud 5k. I always hated running, but there are said to be so many benefits to it. I wanted to see if running would improve my overall health, but the thought of the treadmill is enough to put me to sleep. With the mud run date looming in the not so distant future, I was able to set goals and really get running. I hit the treadmill before climbing, and ran with my dog down the street. I started to realize that after the initial dread and mental pushing, it felt enjoyable. I felt really good after doing it, in fact, the after run is one of my favorite feelings. The day of the mud run was intensely hot and trying to run in that heat was straining, but the obstacles were thrilling and pushed me forward. Particularly when the obstacles involved running through freezing cold water or cool mud. If I could run obstacle courses each day, I’d probably be excited to run. Running every day would probably be good for me too. Having a physical done while training for the mud run, I witnessed the benefits. My cholesterol was down, my weight was down, and I was super healthy. The doctor said to keep it up. I really thought I would.
Post mud run the motivation became a lot harder. I couldn’t imagine getting through a 5k that wasn’t an obstacle course. I kept up running on the treadmill by testing out different motivation methods. I listened to books on tape, I listened to adventure sound track music and imagine myself in high stakes action mode, and I caught up on TV shows. It all worked for a while, and each time I thought I was set. I always felt great after running too, but getting to the gym felt near impossible. I just hated the thought of running. Eventually, I just more or less stopped. I run for a warm up, but never long stretches of time. I’d much rather hike, and it feels like just as much cardio.
A few friends of mine are into trail running and have claimed it to be entirely different. I found this a bit hard to believe, though the idea of being in nature did seem more appealing. One day I was on a steep downhill while hiking, and my knees hurt bad. I started picking up the pace and they felt much better. Before I knew it, I was in a full run and it was exhilarating. My heart was pounding, my face was flushed, and my legs were getting faster and faster. All my focus was dodging roots and large rocks, being careful of my balance, and watching my step. It was sort of like mini obstacles to jump over, or step on in a certain way. It was fun and it felt amazing. That was the first time I had understood what people might mean by a”runner’s high.” I wanted to do it forever. If I said, “hmm…I should run the trail,” I felt psyched to go. It was much different than my strong mental resistance to the gym. In fact, today I started thinking about running a bit on the trail near my house, and I couldn’t wait to get out of work to do it.
As you may notice in the photos, my nearby trails are far from strenuous. They are easy hikes and very easy trail running paths. I am, after all, just starting this new activity and want to be careful to avoid injury. However, they are so much more beautiful than any view you’ll get on a treadmill. The lighting, the trees and plants, the birds and butterflies that soar by, and all the amazing sights nature brings, make this a visual joy. The rocky paths somehow feel much better on my feet and soul than the daunting pavements and concrete. Trail running has enticed me, a complete anti-runner, and I’m sure it can do the same for you. Even if you struggle a bit to get started, walking on a trail is still a better work out than walking slow paced on a treadmill or pavement. So you can still feel good about the moments you need to slow up and catch a breath. There is also reward with the incredible views you get when you reach little summits.
Let’s look at some of the perks to trail running, both scientifically and in my experience.
- It’s good for your body. With all the benefits to your cardio vascular system, running is sometimes known for not being the greatest because of the impact on your knees, shins, ankles, and hips. Trail running is actually said to be less of an impact because there is some give when you hit the ground, and there isn’t when you hit the hard surfaces of treadmills and pavements. So if you want to run, trail running is probably the best option for your knees. In my experience, this rings true. I run downhill on a concrete bike path and am sure to suffer shin splits. I run downhill on the trail and usually feel fine. According to runner’s world, it’s also good for many forms of tendinitis, which climbers are all too familiar with. It also makes your muscles for maintaining balance and control stronger. Just be careful of ankle injuries from rolls. It’s good to start off on easy trails. On top of all that, it is also good for building up core and leg strength. Trail running helps build up a lot of things that you need for climbing, it seems.
- It’s good for your mind. This is probably easy to guess by the simple fact that being out in nature is said to be good for your brain in so many ways. It offers a chance to embrace that strong connection with nature, and escape all the stress of your hectic day. Nature has a way of healing many stresses, concerns, and in some cases mental health problems like depression and anxiety. It makes me feel full and calm.
These benefits are ones I’ve felt to be true. I start out on the run with my focus on the path before me. It is one of the few times in life that I fall easily into being absorbed by the present moment. My mind is cleared of all other thoughts and I see nature in a new way. I see the golden rays of light filtering between the trees in a hazy glow. I notice the intricate patterns of roots, rocks, twigs, and leaves.My chest is heavy from the efforts, but the pain of it is rewarding. I feel peaceful and blissful with each jump, step, and dodge. The feeling is indescribably fun. Each time I need to stop for a break, I find myself eager to recover so that I continue forth stronger. It never gets boring. There is always a new sound, a new obstacle, a new feeling. At the end of it, I feel worn and worked, but also proud and satisfied.
The trail doesn’t need to be difficult in order to see benefits. You can pick flat dirt that is mostly free of rocks if you want. You won’t necessarily be getting all the balance and stabilizing workout, but you will still be able to enjoy the feeling of being in nature. It will still be less impact, good for your heart, and all that stuff. I encourage you to give it a try. If you’ve been trail running before, leave a note in the comments to describe your experience. Do you agree or disagree? Where are your favorite trails?