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Off the Beaten Path :
The Benefits of Trail Running

Steve Elton

Well, it’s nearly fall in the Carolinas. No more ninety degree temps, and cooler nights. This time of year has me thinking of two things- College football and trail running.  I love trail running, unfortunately the biting flies are so bad here over the summer that it is virtually impossible to run on the trails without a bug net and a can of OFF!  I live about three miles from a forest and 9 months out of the year I do most of my running there except my track workouts. If you’re sick of the blacktop and want to know of the many pleasures and benefits of trail running than read on!

I moved to this area almost 3 years ago, but was nursing chronic injuries and not very active. Once my injuries healed and I was able to start running again I started looking for various roads to run on. Low and behold I lived 3 miles from an experimental forest run by the university. Miles and miles of trails to mountain bike and run on.  Quickly I was hooked!!!!  First of all, there was the sheer beauty of the forest. Some trails rapped around mountain spring filled lakes, others up high enough to see to the other side of the county and others twisted and looped around to make you feel like you were on a ride at Disneyworld.  Second, was the wildlife.  Deer, chipmunks, ducks, or an occasional skunk or snake L  would cross my path. Most notably, though, was the lack of cars and people. With no one to yell at you or make the occasional “get off the road” remark, running took on a new found pleasure!

“OK, Steve, we get the picture; nice place to run but, what are the physical benefits?” Well, the physical benefits of running on trails are numerous. Trails are much softer than blacktop and afford your feet and legs less pounding.  So, trails are great for coming back after an injury or for logging mega miles on.  Trails can be hilly. Usually these hills are steeper than the kind found on the road, and can really build up your quads and calves. Trails are great for improving ankle strength. Since, most trails have an uneven surface they force the tendons around your leg to “stabilize” during foot fall. This increases ankle strength which can be of great benefit in cycling and at the end of an Ironman.  On roads you don’t have to hop over logs or under tree limbs- or sometimes crawl. On some trails, the whole body can get workout and not just the legs.  Trails can add variety to your weekly workouts and stave off boredom. The absence of cars means less pollution into your lungs. The absence of people can really give you strength of mind to know you can finish  when it gets tough, this can be extremely helpful at the end of a long race.

“Alright then, how do I get started?” First thing I would do is “scout” the area and make sure it’s safe to run. The local bike shop might have a map of local trails to help you. Second, I would get a good pair of trail shoes or on/off road shoes. Many companies sell them, and I would recommend New Balance or Asics. Buy a hydration system, such as the Ultimate torso pack or the Camelback go-be, to keep the liquids in you. Although many streams appear safe, the truth is many animals bathe and urinate in them. YUK!  Another good idea is to carry a filtered bottle if you are planning on going long. Some type of insect repellent to rub on your legs and ankles is a good idea as well since Lyme disease is carried by small ticks that can cause chronic fatigue syndrome in humans. Also a good idea to check yourself for ticks in the shower when you get home.  I run by myself much of the time I spend in the forest. But, it is an area I am now familiar with and feel safe in. I would recommend that you run with a buddy until you feel safe and even then, in some areas it’s probably better to run with others. It is just my personnal preference to “get away from it all” and spend my long runs alone in the solitude of nautre-did that sound philosophical or what?

Well, anyways, I think you get the picture. Trail running is both enjoyable and beneficial. If you live close to some trails give it a try , who knows you may enjoy it as much as I do! HAPPY TRAIL-sorry, I had to go for that one!       Steve


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