Are you tired of running the same roads? How many times have you already run the bridge to bridge this year? Have you ever thought of giving trail running a go? Trail running is becoming increasingly popular in Canberra. The freedom of being out in the wilderness is something to drive your focus and training goals, whilst also having fun! Let’s run through some reasons why trail running may become your favourite way of keeping fit this year.
1. Lighter on your joints
I’m not going to lie; trail running definitely poses a risk of tripping, falling or landing awkwardly. Obviously these can all have a detrimental effect on your joints (please watch where you’re stepping!). Trail running is generally performed on soft surfaces such as mud, grass, soil or over leaves. Therefore, there is less pounding on your joints from cement and asphalt. I’m looking at those middle-aged runners here with this last point in mind. Many clients that we support at Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy and Your Podiatry Canberra often cite they have ceased road running as it is “too much” for their back, hips and knees.
2. Better for your lungs
Funnily enough, trail running must be performed on trails, outdoors. Therefore, your lungs are exposed to more fresh air than running or exercising indoors. You run on trails that are away from cars, building sites, road works and all those other things that tend to decrease our air quality. Fresher air is finally able to enter your lungs. After you have run up a steep incline on the Centenary Trail, breathing in that fresh Canberra air will help you maximise your performance.
3. Better for your overall state of mind
As mentioned previously, trail running is an outdoors sport. This will typically involve running amongst trees, sand, animals and sunshine. Trail runners are often privy to scenic panoramas unnoticed by the general public. This leads to the ‘biophilia effect’. This is where an individuals’ inbuilt desire to be one with nature is satisfied, thus lifting our mental and psychological health. This is one of the prime reasons that the happiest people on earth generally reside in Scandinavian countries. They (generally) have this unbelievable attachment to nature and being immersed in their surrounds. Even thinking about going for a trail run will hopefully help you get over the roadworks going along the Northern corridor of Canberra for the foreseeable future.
4. Increases your balance and agility
A trail runner rarely performs on flat, even terrain. While this may scare some, it means that there is a greater need for your core to engage throughout the exercise. This is to ensure that you remain stable and upright. I have previously written a concise overview of core work here:
Trail running also requires sudden changes in movements. This typically involves navigating over rocks, changing direction around/over fallen trees, remaining upright both descending and ascending slopes – it’s a jungle out there! The mechanisms involved in a trail run are a lot different from a road run. There is an added eccentric component on your muscles during a trail run. This increases the load on the muscles in terms of how they are working. Your physiotherapist can prescribe you with a dedicated eccentric training program to keep you nimble and upright.
5. Increases your lower limb strength
Due to the nature of the terrain, trail running involves more flexibility from the knees thus increasing the load on the quads, calves and hamstrings. Trail runners use a shortened stride length and spend a lot of time up on their toes in order to climb and navigate obstacles. This, in turn, changes the loading pattern through the hips. A major watchpoint here for clients is the hips and knees working together. If you have a previous Iliotibial Band (ITB) or Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) issue, you are best to seek advice from a friendly physiotherapist at Sport and Spinal before attempting a trail run.
The type of footwear you use is crucial for trail runners. My esteemed colleague Nick Dewey has written a terrific article on running shoes here:
It is important to note, with regards to trail running, that the type of shoes to wear is very much indicative of the surface you are running on. The majority of trail running shoes feature rock plates that are typically positioned between the squishy midsole and the hard outsole of a trail shoe. This protects the foot from sharp rocks and stone bruising. This will make your trail shoes feel a lot stiffer than your road running shoes. However, the added protection is necessary on technical trails. Usually, trail running shoes also have a protective toe bumper which is made of welded-on rubber overlays. This protects the toes when hitting rocks on the front of the shoe.
Active recovery is an integral part of a running program. The prime focus here revolves around recovery after a hard session. This involves assisting muscle memory, loading up your aerobic system and building muscular endurance. Therefore, running on a moderately difficult trail (an example of this is a rocky, undulating terrain) forces you to slow down and take your time. Thus putting a lighter training load on your system. Trail running can also be used as a great cross training activity if you are cyclist or swimmer.
I hope all of this encourages you to get out on the trail! Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy is entering a 12 person team in the Sri Chinmoy Multi-Sport Classic in Jindabyne in March. One of the legs has a 12km steep inclined trail run. Good luck! Anyhow, Canberra has some lovely locations to get involved and can also be a really nice social outing for the family. As always, if you are worried or concerned about a nagging injury, it is best to book an appointment with one of our physios.
We’re currently holding some running workshops in the lead up to the Canberra Running Festival in April. We’re also taking $25 off the full price of our hour individual Running Assessment during the month of March.