The benefits of running off road.
Every runner has one of ‘those friends’. The non-running ones who are completely confused about this whole ‘running thing’ that we do. They just don’t get it. Some mistakenly believe that all races are marathons and ask you questions like “how many miles is this marathon?” or “Are 10Ks harder than 5Ks?”. It’s frustrating having to always explain to friends and family that all marathons are 26.2 miles, and can be held ANYWHERE, not just Boston or New York City, and that K in races stands for KILOMETERS, so a 10K is twice as LONG as a 5K, not necessarily twice as hard (but it can be). If you live in the USA, you usually have to then explain how many miles a kilometer is.
Yet perhaps the most baffling concept for the non-runner to wrap their heads around is trail-running. Why would someone willingly run off road on rough terrain, up and down hills or mountains, through wilderness and possibly even across a creek or shallow river? It’s all about the benefits!
The Great Outdoors!
The SECOND real race I ever ran when I first started running was the Chobot Challenge 15K Trail run on July 7th, 2019. Back then, it was quite the experience, and I finished. Today, I run about half of my races on roads, and half on trails. My favorite trail run in the April Foolish at French Creek State Park. My least favorite, NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN was the Halfwit Half Marathon up and down Mt Penn. That race literally brought tears to my eyes, and almost made me give up running altogether. It was the hardest race I ever ran. I prefer to run on road, but I’m a runner and a runner runs! I’m not going to back away from the occasional trail run, I just wouldn’t want to ONLY run trails.
The benefits of trail running are two-fold, both mental and physical.
There is a beauty to being out in nature that has a soothing effect on the mind. Urbanites trapped in their concrete jungles miss out on the spacious skies, the verdant forest trails, and the sounds of water flowing over the rocks of a nearby river.
The further away from the city you get, the less noise pollution from cars and blasting stereos. The music in the air is birdsong .
There is something to be said about a beautiful mountain lake unspoiled by man because there’s no road to drive there. You have to get there by foot because it’s miles from the nearest road.
There is something very satisfying in running up a snow-covered mountain and seeing a serene winter landscape of undisturbed snow.
And there is something very satisfying to the spirit in knowing that wondrous sights like these belong to you and the small percentage of the population that understands that life is meant to be lived firsthand, and that the real world is the one outside your window.
A leg to stand on!
Running is good for you! The same non-runner friends who don’t understand why you run will also tell you that it’s bad for your knees, bad for your heart, bad for your feet, etc! Poppycock! There are literally hundreds of books on the benefits of running and thousands of scientific studies proving those naysayers wrong. We were born to run!
There are many muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves in the human leg.
The muscles are:
Gluteus minimus and medius, gluteus maximus, Iliac crest, adductor magnus, , semitendinosus, biceps femoris, gracilis, semimembranosus, plantaris, sartoruis, gastrocnemius, soleus.
The tendons are:
Iliotibial tract (IT BAND), plantaris, fleor digitorm longus, medial malleolus, fibularis longus , flexor hallucis longus, fiblaris longus, fibularis brevis.
The ligaments are:
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
The nerves are:
Tibial, and the common fibular.
Don’t even get me started on the foot.
Running on a flat paved surface such as a track or street works different muscle groups and tendons differently than running on a trail. So the physical benefits of trail running is that you are working leg muscles more, and improving balance by running on uneven surfaces.
When running the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus and medius form what is known as the posterior chain, which allows hip extention. Now running uphill will work those glutes harder, and make them stronger in the process. Would you rather have buns of steel to run up mountains , or a lead bottom anchoring you to the couch so that you can become a mountain?
Hilly terrain works your calves, and strong calves mean faster propulsion.
When you run trails, you straighten your tendons and ligaments because the constant need to stabilize your ankles, knees and hip joints works your connective tissues with every uneven step you take. The more you work these, these stronger they become and the less prone to injury. Proof that running is GOOD for maintaining knee health! Always remember that if you are not actively strengthening your body, you are actively weakening your body. No get out there and hit the trail!
You can find me at these upcoming races:
Third Thirsty Thursday 5K Race Series – Race 3/7 June 17 @7:00 pm Reading PA
Lebanon Root Beer Half Marathon June 20 @ 7:00 am Lebanon PA
Be sure to check back on June 27th for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!