Whether you are going for a run through your neighbourhood trails, or negotiating rugged single track in one of our wilder places, trail running is distinctly different from running the roads, treadmill or track. Trail running is perhaps one of the most pure ways you can run, the way humans ran before concrete and health clubs.
Being in the natural world away from cars and city noise is a stress free way to spend your workout and trail running offers great benefits apart from the soul lifting environment. Running in the trails is a great way to take a break from watching your watch, speed or pace as well. Your pace will vary much more than when you run in the city or on a straight path, naturally following the rhythm of the terrain, including obstacles and elevation. In trails, there may be times when you are walking, or scrambling up rocky bits, or over fallen logs, using your arms as well as your legs. The focus is on good movement, and not on pace. This change of pace as you climb, or scramble, can give you great practice into tuning into your own heartbeat and breathing rate and aiming for a consistent effort. For people attached to their wearable technology, I often prescribe trail running as a means to get in touch with internal effort, rhythm and joy of movement. Other benefits of trail running include:
Long uninterrupted runs. For a long base or endurance run, nothing beats a piece of trail. No traffic lights, no intersections and just long stretches of trail create a continuous aerobic session. Without the distractions of road running, you can really get into a groove in the woods, paying attention to your body, your breath and how efficient you are running.
Softer surfaces are easier on the body. Training as much as you can on softer surfaces lessens the impact of forces caused by running and can help prevent injuries and set up faster recovery for your next workout.
Natural fartlek. Going for a hilly trail run will create variations in heart rate which will be much greater than a flat run. This natural fartlek is a nice mental break from structured intervals, but also builds your threshold and mental strength, not to mention your prowess as an uphill bunny.
Agility and focus on movement. Running in the trails requires focus and concentration especially in single track and over uneven terrain. Paying attention to the way your body moves and works makes you a stronger runner and the added bonus is that successful rock hopping makes you feel younger!
Strengthening the stabilizing muscles. There is more lateral motion involved in trail running, with the body having to use the stabilizer muscles and tendons of the ankles, lower legs and core for balance. When added to your overall training program, this type of running gives you a well rounded functional strength.
Before you head into the wild. Urban trails and parks are a great place to start: these trails are generally more even and well maintained. Start with one or two shorter base runs a week to get used to the feeling of running on uneven ground: like any new activity, a little conservatism at first goes a long way to preventing injury. While some trails are marked with distance so you can keep track of your mileage, doing a timed out and back loop will ensure you don’t end up on an epic two hour adventure run on your first time out. A GPS comes in handy in the woods, as you can keep track of where you are when there are no markers to follow for reference. As you increase the range of your workouts in the trails, a GPS allows you to plan more adventurous runs. Taking a photo of the main trail map with your phone is always helpful as well.
Safety. For your personal safety in the trails, you may want to run with a buddy, a bell (for bears), and be up to date on self-protection. See self protection expert Kris Greffard’s FaceBook posts on West Coast Women’s Safety for lots of great tips:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009538537195 or at
Do you need trail running shoes? A trail running shoe provides more traction, protection from rocks and roots and waterproofing than a regular runner, all of which reduce fatigue over the course of a long run. If you are going to commit to longer or more extreme trail runs a good trail runner will provide more comfort and function than your regular trainer.
So, go find a park and add trail running to your repertoire of training skills. Watch those stumps and roots and feel your body getting stronger!
Run For Joy!
I found a wonderful quote about accountability the other day, or rather, what happens when there is a lack thereof:
"Having accountability reduces drama and self inflicted chaos".
How many times have we run around in circles, creating the same problems and suffering for ourselves. And yet, awareness is also not linear, more like an upward moving spiral. What I have learned over the last five years of my life, is that without grief, there is no joy. The dark and the light are both welcome. I can be tossed about in the waves or I can ride the swells. I can pause, or I can react. And most of all, I can be accountable to myself and others and reduce the 'self inflicted chaos.'
What I discover is that awareness is not a linear process, and I don’t know what I don’t know, but once I was motivated to stop whatever behaviour or thinking was keeping me stuck, I can’t unsee what I now see. Like other forms of practice, I am used to, lifting weight let’s say, or training for a 5 km race, where the improvements ebb, flow and plateau, the more I embrace the uncertainty of the nature of any one day, the more I can relax into trusting the process. In runners' terms, the more attached you are to a particular outcome or external reward, the more suffering you bring yourself through the inevitable disruptions and unmet goals: chaos ensues.
The cracking open arrives intermittently. I don’t notice for several days, or even months, that I have shed that very heavy burden I wore for so long. That somewhere, I discarded the armour, or more, it dissolved during some conscious moment where I was being patient and planted in one spot, rather than running around in circles.
Awareness is not a stealthy thing that requires me to have eyes in the back of my head. It requires a surrender and a trust, that I am ok right now, not that I will be ok at some future time when what I 'want' happens.
My soul makes space in small irregular increments. I know there are others that speak this language; I read their words and hear the knowing murmurs.
Each wave of awareness sheds more light than the one previous but there are no steps that can be skipped. I can’t, as in the past, run a little faster, or hold my breath to dive beyond what I currently know.
I never know when the light will appear, there is no predicting. Just as I realize later along the trail that I have lost some protective layer along the way, I also can hardly recall the devotion to which I clung to it. I’ll be across the field at dusk and feeling lighter and more grounded at the same time. I’ll also get moments of sheer acceptance that takes my breath away.
The light appears after darkness, usually in a space created by leaks, or memory of the past not processed, a body sensation that feels like darkness and old shame. I have had to train myself not to run away, or really, not to run at all. To not pretend, cover up or deny. I have had to learn to sit uncomfortably in my own crawling skin. It is after these moments that a spaciousness occurs, like the vast blue sky, a deep joy and gratitude that has nothing to do with fleeting happiness or getting what I want.
And then I may run free.
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.