Now that spring is here and the weather is generally getting warmer and drier, many casual runners – and some of those who are curious about a new fitness avenue, one that will change their routine, from stale to stirring – think about trail running or off-road running.
Jogging on trails has advantages over road running in a number of ways, the first being that you don’t have to negotiate the road and sidewalk in amongst cars and trucks while simultaneously breathing in copious amounts of exhaust.
The tranquil atmosphere of a secluded trail is reason enough for most people, and trails have other benefits. But they also have hazards that would be important to consider before donning your gear and making for the great outdoors.
The benefits include absorbing your body weight on woodchip, grass, gravel and sand surfaces, which is generally felt as less jarring on the legs and hips. The varying terrain will require you to step over puddles, skirt around rocks, and skip past twigs, which help to use many muscles that wouldn’t normally get used running out on the road.
You will also inevitably need to do some uphill and downhill running that is steeper than road grades, and this can help put a new demand on the legs and hips, which will strengthen them.
Another benefit is the opportunity to use the outdoor space as your own gym and stop occasionally and do some step-ups using a nearby log, do some lunges or push-ups on the grass, some chin-ups if there is an outdoor play area in the neighborhood – the options are open and up to you.
But, as with most things in life, with rewards come risks.
Running on uneven surfaces and over objects like rocks and twigs creates the risk of twisting an ankle, spraining a knee or picking up some other injury, especially in the early stages of beginning trail running when the body has not quite adapted yet.
‘Too much, too soon’ applies to this sport as well as any other. Downhill running can load the knees a great deal and care needs to be taken to modify your speed and make sure your first weeks of running are spent not getting carried away with the exuberance of flying through the trails without caution.
It can even be helpful to prepare with a training routine that incorporates balance exercises, ankle, knee and hip strengthening in the gym before and during this initial period.
It’s a good idea to scout out or research the trail you want to run and do something a little flatter with less obstacles initially. Make sure that you are able to take some time and really enjoy your environment, after all, that’s a big reason why you are out there in the first place.
Having said that, also be aware of wild-life – not just the birds and squirrels, but of the bigger animals, too.
It’s a good to be prepared for all emergency situations by carrying a cell phone, noise maker or other protection against the real possibility of encountering bears or cats.
Running with a buddy or small group can definitely help alleviate this concern.
Being dressed for the weather and temperature is wise and that would include a jacket, water, food, back-pack and first-aid kit (if needed on longer or secluded routes), hat, phone and proper shoes.
Most of all enjoy the experience, take care to preserve and respect the area you visit, let someone know where you are, and ‘happy trails’.
Kerry Senchyna is the founder, owner and president of West Coast Kinesiology and is a provincially registered kinesiologist.