Don’t be afraid of a little dirt

IMG 3147 225x300 Dont be afraid of a little dirtWhen I wrote about my summer trail race, I noticed a pattern to many of the comments: people were afraid to try trail running for fear of getting hurt. I can understand having those fears, but I also want to allay them to some degree. In fact, I’d argue that trail running brings with it less chance for injury than road running.

Yes, you might fall during a trail run. I just took a good one on Friday. But other than a few scratches and bruises, I’m just fine. Yes, you might twist an ankle: I sprained mine badly years ago on a trail run when I descended a bit too fast and wasn’t paying attention like I should have been. But if you look at my years of running, more of my injuries have occurred from overuse on the roads, and those have been injuries that took longer to get over than those I’ve sustained on trails.

I think a couple of factors play into making trails gentler on your body than the road. One is that you use a much wider variety of muscles when you trail run, so you’re less likely to overuse particular body parts. You also strengthen muscles that might get neglected when on the road, and this can only help build a stronger overall machine, one that is less prone to injury.

Secondly, trails force you to slow down. You’re going to be paying closer attention to your footing, plus you’ve got lots of ups and downs. You can’t help but to slow things down. Injuries from the road often stem from too much speedwork. By taking a slower break on the trails, you give your body a chance to catch its breath and repair damage.

Finally, the softer surface may do your body some good, too. I’m a believer that a softer landing via good form has more to do with the impact running has on your body, but I also don’t discount the theory that dirt is easier on your body than asphalt or cement.

Bottom line–yes, I’m trying to sell you on doing a little bit of mileage on the trails! The more I do it, the more I love it. I believe it’s not only gentler on your body than the road, but tons of fun as well. There’s nothing that makes you feel more like a kid than playing in the woods!

So tell me–do you love trails or do you fear them? 

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  1. I’ve only run on trails a couple of times and usually when I’m home in California. I kind of love it. It’s hard but in such a different way than road running. I wish that I would run more trails in NYC! Maybe that would solve my running injury problem?? :-)
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Life Jacket RequiredMy Profile

  2. I just know my ITB was happier with me running off road! Even though I live in the city, I ran every trail or park that I encountered on my runs and I believe it’s been an integral part of my recovery. Makes you stronger too!
    Sherry recently posted..Getting FasterMy Profile

  3. I always listen to music during my runs, except when I’m running on trail runs! They make me pay attention to what’s happening. I think that’s great, because I know it’s important to stay in the moment. Trail running forces you to do just that.
    Mom’ s Home Run recently posted..The lone female runner got herself an appMy Profile

  4. The mountain and it’s trails are my 2nd home, and I feel better for it, and it’s easier to spend 3 hours up there then on the tar!!!
    Coach Dion recently posted..FEELING OLD (TIRED)My Profile

  5. For the last few years, I’ve alternated road marathon seasons with trail 50Ks. Not only do they keep me from getting the overuse pounding injuries, but it also strengthens those little, lesser used muscles through your entire body as you struggle more to stay upright.

    That said, at my last 50K a month ago, I fell hard and tore up my knees REALLY badly and am now a little afraid of rocks and roots. The confidence will return eventually and I’ve got some killer scars, but I wouldn’t give up trails for the world.
    Karen@ La Chanson de Ma Vie recently posted..Devil’s PunchbowlMy Profile

  6. I have a friend who does most of his running on trails now. We were talking about rolling ankles (since I’m prone to that) and he’s found that the ligaments in his foot have adapted. He can roll, twist or contort his ankle in so many different positions now, that it just pops right back up with no damage. I’m still interested in doing more trail running it’s just that I can’t find anyone with a similar schedule as me to do it with! I don’t feel comfortable being out by myself on a trail. I’m still looking though!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..The Most Meaningful MilesMy Profile

  7. Love the title of this post. When I plan my runs I make sure I always go off road, it makes it a little more exciting for me plus it is better on my feet. Softer ground is the way forward hehe.

  8. I agree 100%. I love the trails and next year will do more trail races.
    Jeff recently posted..What’s in a 20 miler?My Profile

  9. This is a very good point. Unfortunately, the closest trails for me involve a 20 minute drive and when I get an hour in the morning to workout that doesn’t usually work out. If I don’t go in the AM I’m forced to take the stroller which definitely does not bode well for trail running! One day!
    emma @ a mom runs this town recently posted..What Gets You Going?My Profile

  10. i don’t fear trails, but i’ve never run them before… i guess more just out of convenience… i’m sure there are places to train run in st louis i just don’t know of them!
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..Long Love FruitMy Profile

  11. I LOVE trail running and it’s not injury that scares me but getting LOST! I need to find a trail running buddy to show me the ropes of a few of the local trails so I don’t end up on the 11 o’clock news!! Thanks for this post – I’m ready to get my woods run on as soon as that last half-marathon is done:-)
    Allie recently posted..VITA-MERICAL or My Blog CommercialMy Profile

    running with the child.
    Miz recently posted..Breakfast brain-food.My Profile

  13. Right now, about 90% of my running is grass or trails! I’d much rather get bruised and scraped than overuse injuries!
    Adrienne recently posted..“Winning Slowly” and Other Smart Sayings That Aren’t MineMy Profile

  14. I love trails, but I’ve been avoiding them for the meat of my training for fear of getting hurt.
    Alyssa K recently posted..Ouchies and new kicksMy Profile

  15. I wish I had more trails around me… I’ve loved it the few times I went, but it’s not something I make a priority. Thanks for the reminder!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..How do you prevent injury?My Profile

  16. i run trails 3x a week. I actually prefer it. Mental escape!
    lindsay recently posted..Motivation Monday: 5 Ways to Get Better Results from Strength TrainingMy Profile

  17. We only have one trail by us, about 45 min away, and it’s hard in the summer with florida rains but I’d love to try it out more!
    Kat recently posted..Disneyland Racecation: Our StayMy Profile

  18. Love trails! I wish I could do them more, but I have to drive to get to them. To me, running trails is a lot more natural than running on pavement, and a lot more freeing!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted..Watching a professional bike tour – Tour of Alberta PrologueMy Profile

  19. Love this post! I LOVE trail running and 100% agree with your thoughts about preventing injury and overuse by incorporating some softer terrain into your training plan. I just ran a 15-mile trail race on Saturday and LOVED it! Lots of ups and downs and even more fun!
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted..Kavu Sydney Satchel Review & GiveawayMy Profile

  20. Love, love, love trails!
    Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb recently posted..I Love Running In PHXMy Profile

  21. Love the trail running and love this post. Looking forward to changing my focus a bit in the coming year (to more trails and longer distances)
    Robin recently posted..5 Weeks Till ChicagoMy Profile

  22. I think you know how I feel about trails :) If I could scrap the road all together I would. I love trails and especially back there. In SoCal I am afraid of rattlesnakes during the warmer months, so by late fall, I’m chomping at the bit to get out there. If it’s really early morning, I’ll still go out in the summer. Really great tips and information!
    LisaM@RunWiki recently posted..10 simple tips for running your first half marathonMy Profile

  23. I love trail running! If I loved closer to trails that is all I would run on. :)
    Betsy recently posted..What I’ve Been Up To…My Profile

  24. We don’t even have trails here…the best I can do is the dirt loop around Audubon park!
    Gracie (Complicated Day) recently posted..I’m a lame bloggerMy Profile

  25. I love, love, love trails. I actually did all of my Boston long runs up on the trails/foothills and it was great. Nothing prepared me for the rolling course like 2,000 foot inclines and it kept me doing some slower training and the soft ground was WAY easier on my body than 20 miles on streets!
    Sheila recently posted..The Impromptu 5kMy Profile

  26. I was one of those who feared trails until I found myself on them during my last race! I did love that you really have to pay attention and be in the moment when on a trail; and I can definitely attest to the fact that you use muscles differently – ouch! But I really enjoyed the experience and will be adding some trail miles in the future.
    Michelle @ Running with Attitude recently posted..Eliminate Can’tMy Profile

  27. I’d really like to try trail running. The only thing I’m afraid of about it is going alone :). I’m hoping to rope a neighbor running friend into going with me sometime.
    Kristen @ The Running Mom recently posted..Heart rate training, shoes, and veggiesMy Profile

  28. I love the trail run, but can’t my HR moniter to work when I am in the woods. How are you doing easy MAF runs on the trails?

    • My HRM works just fine out there, so it’s odd that yours doesn’t? And of course, there’s walking involved in the really big, long climbs!

  29. I would love to do some trail runs, but I don’t feel comfortable running the trails without a running buddy and those are very hard to find:/ Most of the trails I would run are a bit far away and I wouldn’t want to run them alone. Trails are super fun though!
    Rachelle Q recently posted..Five For FridayMy Profile

  30. Love trails – I always suggest beginners start on groomed gravel trails, then progress to two-track, then singletrack as they get more comfortable.
    Kovas – Midwest Multisport Life recently posted..Interval Training InfographicMy Profile

  31. I’m not even sure if there are any good trails nearby. I’ve never thought about it. Still enjoy running on roads, and like the challenge of remaining injury-free on pavement. Ran a marathon yesterday, and I think I’m about to go out for a run in a minute. I guess I’m doing alright, because I’m not too achy today. Taking a break from racing for a while. I’ve set some modest PRs so far (3:37 yesterday) but I think it’s time to try the MAF stuff and build a better engine.

    • Congrats Bob! Really happy for you! Enjoy some downtime before starting again.

      • So much for downtime… Went 9 today and 6 yesterday. Really didn’t expect to feel this good. I think I might use this marathon as my last long training run before another one in October, and try tapering like a normal person. I’m not sure why I want to keep going like this. I guess if it felt bad enough, I would stop.

  32. Ok I will admit I am scared of trails. I ran trails for a while and it was kind of the last straw before a really ugly overuse injury. i am always worried about trying to run on such an uneven surface. any advice?
    Stephanie recently posted..Hello Sub 2 hours, its so nice to see – 13.1 Allstate Half Marathon RecapMy Profile

    • You might be skeptical to this, but I have found that being in the most minimal shoe I can on trails has made me enjoy them so much more. I wear the New Balance Minimus trail shoe and having that much improved ground feel has made me so much less likely to go down. I seriously just went two years w/o a fall (ended on Friday!) and I attribute that to the shoes.

  33. Love the trails! I agree with everything you wrote. It is actually quite amazing how many road runners don’t like the getting dirty factor. I know for a fact trails are “softer” on the body. Trail injuries yes, running injuries no.
    Johann recently posted..Sick Sucks!My Profile

  34. Great post — I totally agree with your argument re: trail running lowering overuse injuries. I love trail running. I’m lucky to live close to a lot of great trails – I definitely try to take advantage of them once a week.
    Jen recently posted..Marine Corps Marathon Week 12My Profile

  35. I fell in love with trails last summer when it was too darn hot to train for MCM anywhere else. I really should treat myself to a trail shoe already.
    Love your ‘kids in the woods’ analogy. We played in the woods all the time as kids. SO. Much. Fun!
    Marcia recently posted..Carrot Spice BreadMy Profile

  36. I was just thinking about trails this weekend. I really want to take Ian back to my home area and hike with him. We probably won’t do much trail running but this is the perfect time of year to try it.
    Katie @momslrb recently posted..Clean Out My Prize ClosetMy Profile

  37. I love trail runs! Part of it is the challenge of having to pay such close attention to each step. It’s an adrenaline rush for sure!
    Taylor @ LiftingRevolution recently posted..Dream BIG: The Dream Shuffle WorkoutMy Profile

  38. If ever on these trails you come across a house made of candy with a mean old witch out front, please run the other way.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Man SaladMy Profile

  39. I still haven’t run trails but I want to. And, it would be a great reason to get the Mizuno trail shoes that I looked at the other day!!
    Kim recently posted..44…..My Profile

  40. I don’t mind the trail at all. I typically start my run with 2km of trail running :)
    Kierston @candyfit recently posted..Life In Slow Motion….My Profile

  41. I used to do quite a bit of trail running when I did our hill sessions. The thing that used to scare me most is coming down the steep slopes where there was only gravelly rocks underfoot. I’m fine when I have good footing but when the earth moves beneath my feet I get scared.
    Char recently posted..The End of an Era … MaybeMy Profile

  42. Every time I think about trying trail running, I’m at a point in my mileage and race training that it would be unwise. Perhaps I will have to make more time for it in the future.
    Mandy recently posted..Rainier RecapMy Profile

  43. LOVE THEM! In fact, I think my road running days are pretty much in the rear view. I agree that I think they are safer. I’m less concerned with pace since I’m more aware of my footing and the fact that I’m climbing like a beast, so it gives me time to enjoy the scenery and relax. Plus, my knees love the dirt so much more.
    Colorado Gal recently posted..Gates of the Arctic: Packrafting the Alatna River & A GrizzlyMy Profile

  44. I don’t take any convincing. I love running on trails, I love racing on trails. I wish there were more trail races near me. So much fun! And yes, easier overall on your body than running on the roads.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..Your Second Marathon: Where Do You Go After Number One? 7 Tips to Get You ThereMy Profile

  45. I’ve never felt more beat up as I have the past few weeks road training again vs. the months and months I trained on the trails for Leadville. Oh…unless you count the numerous times I fell and tore of my knee on the Leadville trails….oh, and the infamous face plant where I tore a rib muscle and couldn’t run for 2 weeks. Haha. But overall, my aging body much prefers the trails. One more road marathon and I think I’m done with ‘em.
    Jill recently posted..Pikes Peak MarathonMy Profile

  46. Debbie @ Deb Runs says:

    My husband and I took a hike on Saturday morning and the whole time we kept saying how fun it would be to run the trail instead. Next time we’re in the area and have time, we’re doing it! :-)

  47. I just did a great trail run today. Sometimes it is a little hard to see how much slower I run on trails, but I am starting to get over it because I know I am working hard and loving the scenery so much more!
    Christy @My Dirt Road Anthem recently posted..Why I cried while running a Ragnar RelayMy Profile

  48. LOOOOOVE trails! But tend to shy away from them during training cycles b/c I’m klutzy and will definitely take a spill or two! Could not agree with you more!
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Sub-1:32 Half Marathon -> FINALLY!My Profile

  49. I haven’t done much trail running, partially because it has always made me nervous. But after reading this post, I am feeling inspired to find a trail nearby for one of my easy runs this week!
    Noelle @ NoelleRuns recently posted..Things I Love: Socks!My Profile

  50. love your thoughts on this.
    I am not a trail runner but have enjoyed it so much the few times I’ve gone. We have some great trails near our area and actually it’s more the fact that it’s been SO hot since May around here that we haven’t done much of it. I will promise to make our way out to the trails as a family, because I think my boys would enjoy trail running too! So scenic and peaceful :)
    marissa recently posted..don’t think about it…My Profile

  51. Ok I’m totally sold! You make some great points. I agree with Kirsten though I’d be scared to do trails alone so may need to find a running buddy for this kind of training. :=)
    Jenelle recently posted..Tuesday tid bits;My Profile

  52. Love love love them! Running on trails your body just knows what to do.

    Running on trails just feels more…natural. Never thought I would say that :)
    Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted..A Safe Return to RunningMy Profile

  53. Excellent!

  54. Although this isn’t the biggest running prejudice I hear, it certainly does pop up now and then. I would like to copy/paste your email for anyone who takes issue with trail running for “risk of injury” reasons. Thanks for a pointed and timely post! :)
    Holly @ Run With Holly recently posted..Weekly Workout Round-Up (Aug. 26 – Sept. 8): Marathon RecoveryMy Profile

  55. I think people may also perceive the word “trail” as being hard, when trails can be very easy (a loop in a park for example). The key is to find some easy trails to start with and increase your comfort level as you build up from easy trails to harder trails.
    Jamoosh recently posted..Running in Genes – Part 2My Profile

  56. I would love to do more trails. In our area, we are very limited.
    Joanne recently posted..Hours Trumps Miles and Meyer Lemon Baked FriesMy Profile

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