I started running trails in 2013 but I could not have imagined what those first steps would do to my life. Getting on the trails after 7 years of road running and triathlon boosted my mental and physical wellbeing. As a matter of fact, it still happens today. 10 years after my first trail run, the benefits of trail running are still being felt.
I bring up mental and physical well being because everyday on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn there is a post about stress. We are all experiencing stress in some form or fashion. We tend to focus on the stress but not the solution to it.
With this article, I will talk about how getting on the trails, out into nature, testing myself has helped me. I have been able to provide some answers to my stress. While it hasn’t fully left, trail running has certainly helped create improvements.
The Physical Benefits of Trail Running
It would seem obvious but sometimes the obvious tends to be overlooked and while I’m not a scientist or doctor I can feel what happens to my body on uneven and hilly terrain.
During trail runs my heart rate climbs from almost the first step. My body knows it is about to enter into an area that is going to require my heart to pump fast to get more oxygen to my muscles and legs. It is at this moment where I feel alive. My heart is pounding but I know that I’m going to be getting fitter and healthier despite how hard it feels.
Muscle Strength and Endurance
When I started out, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought it was just like running on the road. I was wrong. Running on the road was easier than running on trails. I could feel it in my muscles.
Those climbing muscles were sore for days when I started but over time they got stronger. I also started to focus my training on climbing mountains which also meant more time at the gym doing squats, lunges and deadlifts. This all translated to a stronger body therefore increased endurance.
Running fast for a short period of time is one thing. Running long at a consistent pace is another. I have chosen the latter as evidenced by 8 finishes at the 100 mile distance and a 250 mile finish at the inaugural Cocodona 250 (actually 257, but what’s 7 miles between friends?)
While I have turned an ankle on the trail I have yet to be severely sidelined. I had a calf pull back in 2019 that made me question my ability to run Black Canyon at the start of 2020. Outside of that, my injury history is a blank sheet of paper.
I credit the ability to be injury free to having to work the small muscles as well as the big muscles. A consistent approach to flexibility, mobility and core work has given me the confidence to go out on the trails without worrying about getting injured. These small habits add up to big gains and finish lines.
The Mental Benefits Of Trail Running
Choosing The Right Trail
When you decide to hit the trails, you may begin by asking others around you for tips about which trail to choose. You may also go to AllTrails or another app that showcases the trail.
You will want to look for trails that are meant for beginners. They’ll tend to not have a lot of elevation gain. In addition to that they will not be long runs typically. These two components are beneficial to getting started. Another helpful thing about many trails websites and apps, like AllTrails, they will give you a preview of the distance and elevation profile of each trail, plus an aggregate rating of whether people thought it was easy, medium, or hard to complete.
You’ll be able to build your confidence which will carry over, as you begin to progress, to longer and steeper trails.
Proper Gear And Clothing
We’ve all been on a run where the forecast called for rain but the sky didn’t tell the same story. You go out and midway through the run, the skies open up. You’re drenched because you didn’t prepare for the rain. Now, the run is less than desirable.
Trail running offers those same components but the difference is that you are usually in the middle of nowhere. Not having the right gear when the weather turns can be a challenge. You start questioning where you are, how long it will take to get back and why you started.
Weather is only a portion of the situation when it comes to the right gear for the situation. Your shoes may not be the right ones for the terrain you are on. I run on very rocky terrain and the Saucony Peregrine 12 was not the right shoe. The shoe is not built for rocky terrain and I could feel the rocks under me. This led me to questioning my ability to run. I switched to the Nike Wildhorse 7 which brought my confidence back.
The proper gear and clothing for trail running can make or break your experience.
Building Up Stamina
As I set out on the trail, the idea of racing 100 or 250 miles was non-existent. I didn’t think about going that far. As a matter of fact, I laughed at the notion of running further than 13 miles.
As time has gone along, my stamina has built up therefore the idea of racing 100 miles is met with a smile. This coming April, I will be racing the Canyons 100. It will be the first 100 mile race since 2019 but I am looking forward to it.
Knowing that I can be prepared for a 100 mile race gives me confidence that I can take on anything, like run a business!
The stamina that I have built over the years is translated to the business landscape and to teaching college students. There is something about conquering your fears that creates the opportunity to take on other tasks
Boost Your Mental and Physical Wellbeing
I got started with trail running because I started to get burnt out on triathlon. The transition to trail and ultra runner wasn’t immediate. I was afraid of the distance because I wasn’t completely sure what training would be like.
As I took those first few steps forward I realized that there were many benefits to trail running. The obvious ones were the physical benefits. I was able to become a stronger runner. It also gave me a stronger core that would translate to other sports like cycling and swimming.
What I didn’t expect to benefit from trail running was my mental well-being. I figured that being an Ironman athlete gave me all that I needed. I was wrong. Trail running is different from triathlon. The challenges are different. Gear and races are different. Even races within trail running are different. Last Man Standing, 100 Miler, 250 Miler are all different trail races. Plus, there are many other options too.
Stepping into an unknown sport while exposing my vulnerability allowed me to grow. I grew as an athlete therefore I grew as a person. Today, there are challenges that I face with being an athlete plus a business owner. Those are different challenges from being a teacher but I am able to work through them thanks to trail running.
If you’re looking for something new then I recommend taking a few runs to the dirt. You don’t have solely on the trail but those few runs will benefit you. You will get stronger physically and mentally from a few miles (hours) out in nature. Enjoy the benefits of trail running, even after you stop running.