When 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.
A few tips to make the going easier:
- Take a buddy
- Go for time, not miles
- Put more space between you and the person in front of you than you would on the road–this helps you spot hazards
- Pay attention to the trail markers
- Embrace the dirt!
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?