I may get yelled at by the road runners for this so I’ll first just say that there are some pretty great road runs out there. I run on the road myself and always enjoy it. But between road and trail, my favourite is undoubtably trail.
Here is why:
1. Well, there’s the scenery
I really needn’t go any further. This reason alone should be enough to have you chuckin’ on the trailies and heading bush. It has to be the reason most people trail run. It is certainly the main reason for me. I’d much rather look at the trees and rocks than cars and buildings.
Running trails can be an excuse to get out there, into the great outdoors. And get to places that have lovely views. And let’s face it, you could hike to these places, but running gets you there in half the time. I’m all for that!
2. Good for the body
Running on bitumen or concrete can be pretty jarring on the body. And because there is little variation in the surface, the foot is landing in pretty much the same way every stride, repeatedly impacting the same parts of the body. In comparison, the dirt, sand and grass of trails is a lot more forgiving. Not only is the surface more cushioned, but the uneven surfaces mean there is variation in each stride.
Because of the uneven surfaces, trail running employs all those little stabilisation muscles that would often not be used in road running. No two strides are the same on the trails! And the crazy surfaces you are running on encourage more of a forefoot landing than a heel strike. After my first trail run my legs and feet were hurting in places they’d never hurt before, but I knew that was a good thing.
3. Focus Focus!
There are things on trails that will want to trip you up. Rocks, tree roots, branches, echidnas… This is particularly true when it comes to single-track. You need to be aware and focused all the time. You need to know where your foot is going to land, every step you take. So you can’t just zone out . Your foot-eye coordination gets an excellent workout and I think that keeps it really interesting.
And if you don’t focus, things like this can happen! I tripped over a tree root and slid down a slope on my knees. Ouch!
Getting lost Exploring new places
I don’t call it getting lost, I call it finding new paths.
One of the best ways of exploring a new place is by running. You cover more distance faster than just walking, and you can reach places vehicles cannot. I would only recommend you do it if you know that you’ll eventually run into a familiar road or landmark. Or if you have a map and compass and know how to use them!
This is how I got to know my way around my local State Recreation Area. I would just run down any track that took my fancy at the time, knowing that I would eventually run into the beach or one of the fire roads. It is so interesting to not know what is around the next corner.
4. The serenity
No traffic noise, no sirens blaring or children screaming. Just the birds, crickets, frogs. The wind in the trees, waves breaking, creeks flowing. You get the picture. It’s lovely and peaceful.
Another benefit of trail is there tends to be less people. Often you can have the place to yourself. I have been running in the trails close to home without seeing a single other soul. Trail races usually have less people than road races too. Apart from the really popular ones (such as Ultra-Trail Australia) there is generally much less participation than an equivalent road race. Okay, there’s always a big bunch at the start line, but I’ve done trail races where I have found myself completely alone with no other competitor in sight.
5. Cool stuff
Trail running can introduce you to some really cool stuff that road running can’t. For example, goannas, snakes, burnt-out cars, disused railway tracks, footprints of unidentified animals, waterfalls, zebras and my favourite, cow pats. These are all things I have seen while running trails.
There are a lot of interesting things hidden out in the bush, and you won’t find them by running on the road, will you? So get out there!