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The top benefits of running trails

By Henry Howard

The quiet and peace of the pre-dawn trail beckoned me for this weekend’s long run. I had been debating whether to hit the trails or take to the roads again.

I’m training for a challenging road marathon, the Blue Ridge Marathon in Virginia. Even though I have been almost entirely training on roads, there are benefits to trail running even while training for a road race.

Whether you’ve been completely focused on running on pavement or cruise the trails once in a while, you can boost your fitness, mental wellbeing and more with regular runs in nature. By incorporating trail running into your routine, you can:

1. Become stronger: The different terrain means you will be using your leg muscles differently. Some muscles activate more or at different times to help absorb the greater impact from running on harder surfaces whether that is a road, sidewalk or treadmill. Trail running activates your stabilizing muscles and gets them working harder to help keep you balanced on an uneven surface.

2. Cut the risk of injury: Not only will you get stronger, you are narrowing your chance for injury. Here’s why: The variance of the trail means your foot strike is not as repetitive as it is on the road or treadmill. That means your foot strike is different, lessening the impact on the same muscles each time.

3. Build mental toughness: While some runners gravitate to the treadmill during rainy, cold or windy days, I find those are the runs that build mental toughness that is so crucial when things get tough on race day. Finishing a run in challenging weather can boost your confidence. (Note: There are limitations when your health can be at risk such as extremely cold weather, lightning or icy conditions. Safety first when there are extremes.)

4. Reduce anxiety: It’s well known that being out in nature contributes to reducing stress and lessening anxiety. One example is from research that shows a 90-minute walk or run in nature reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.

5. Burn fat faster: For those looking to shed pounds, trail running can help you burn from 60 to 90 more additional calories an hour, data from the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal shows. The challenge of uneven terrain is the reason.

6. Live longer: Living in a green space meant a 12% lower rate of death compared to living in an urban environment, according to Harvard University research from 2017.

If you like my advice and are looking for a running coach, I currently have some openings. Feel free to connect with me and we can set up a free, no-obligation consultation to see if we are a good fit.


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