Sounds basic, doesn’t it? We all know running – especially trail running – falls under the broad category of ‘things that are good for you’, but how exactly will it make you fitter, happier and healthier?
Sure, pavements are fine, but they’re generally flat, hard and unforgiving terrain to run on. By making the move to off-road trail running, you’ll encounter different types of terrain that offers many benefits to runners, not to mention the mental and physical benefits of getting outside and enjoying a run.
Brought to you by our Run 1000 Miles Challenge, these 10 solid reasons to ditch the tarmac for adventures off-road will help convince your fellow runners and those just starting out to take up trail running, and explain how it will make them a better runner as a result.
Improve your run economy
Running long slow runs on grassy trails can help improve running economy and help the body adapt to greater mileage. Running on grass can also be kinder to your joints, with the softer terrain dampening the impact of your footstrike.
Soft terrain is especially good for those prone to developing muscle knots and those who are nervous about running as an older athlete. A softer terrain will also help strengthen leg muscles as they will tend to lengthen more than when running on firmer ground.
Fit long easy runs into your training at least once a week. Aim to head out for a nice slow jog around the length in time as all your weekly runs combined. It's all about distance, so hold back when hitting any inclines.
Conquer any hill
Regular hill sprints are a must for any runner’s training plan, and they're pretty hard to avoid when running on the trails, so you may as well learn how to master the climb. Inclined sprints can help develop explosive power and strength in the legs. Aim for a piece of inclined trail with good footing and one that you can run up for 15-20 seconds – avoid sections so steep that it’s quicker to walk.
Fit inclines into your training by adding a weekly session containing six to eight hill sprint intervals, walking down slowly after each rep to give yourself time to recover. Be sure to warm-up thoroughly and/or pre-stretch before you start your session.
Boost aerobic fitness
The undulating terrain typically found on trails is perfect territory for longer run intervals. As with longer runs and short intervals, long intervals should form part of any runner’s training as they are great for boosting aerobic capacity and endurance, especially for long-distance athletes and those training for a marathon.
Choose a route with plenty of moderate hills (none too steep, though) and, after a 10-minute easy jog to warm up, inject some speed, holding a fast pace on up or downward sections of trail for intervals of three to six minutes. Try and fit around four to eight of these intervals into your run with decent jog breaks between to recover.
Another terrain you may come across as you delve into the world of trail running is beach running. Just one stretch of beach can provide a huge variety of terrain types, everything from uneven pebbles and soft shingle at the top to hard packed sand near the sea edge. Running on different sections of terrain can help build running strength in your main leg muscles and those that stabilise the body as you run.
For short, sharp beach sprints, run up the beach, away from the sea, and use the combination of the natural incline and softer sand or pebbles to add a challenge. For longer beach intervals, or just long easy runs, choose a section of harder packed sand or shingle, often found nearer to the sea's edge.
Plus, your bones will get stronger too. A study published in Missouri Medicine found that weight-bearing exercise such as running led to the creation of new bone tissue, thus strengthening the skeletal structure.
You’ll live longer
A scientific review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analysed 14 studies and found running was associated with a 23% lower risk of death from cancer and 30% lower risk of death from heart issues.
It boosts your mood
A study published a couple of years ago by JAMA Psychiatry showed running for just 15 minutes per day reduces your risk of suffering from depression.
You'll feel good about yourself too. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that running had a significant positive effect on self-esteem. It’s no surprise, as running can make you feel better about body image and more motivated in your daily life.
It helps you make friends
Running is a great way of meeting people – either online or, gulp… in real life! It’s a great social activity, whether you join a club and make new friends, or link up with someone you already know. Our Run1000Miles Facebook groupis a great place to start if you're looking for a community of like-minded and supportive runners, just sign-up to the challenge to join!
You’ll sleep better
Anecdotally, we know we feel sleepier after a particularly physically active day. Scientists agree. Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital, says: “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality.”
It improves your memory
Running is great for the brain, too. Numerous studies have suggested this. Marc Poulin, the author of one of these at the University of Calgary, said: “Our study showed that six months of vigorous exercise may pump blood to regions of the brain that specifically improve your verbal skills as well as memory and mental sharpness.”
It fuels competiton
Racing is not an essential part of trail running. However, if you are the competitive type, striving to improve your performance adds an extra level of enjoyment – whether you’re battling to lower your personal best or racing to beat others. With a healthy mindset, competition can be a very motivating force in your running journey.
This article is brought to you by the official Trail Running Run 1000 Miles Challenge.