LocationIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about taking advantage of your location for the month of December. This week, I will explain why you should take advantage of your local trail system.

This past Summer I wrote about the Trail Running 101 presentation put on by a couple of the local ultramarathoners. I recommend re-reading that article for specific tips about how to run trails and why you should.

There are two major reasons that I run trails that I would like to focus on today. The first is the lack of traffic, and the second is the strength and injury resistance that running trails can build.

Major Advantage 1: The Lack of Traffic

If you are anything like myself, then most of your miles are on the roads. Running on the roads means that you have to deal with traffic. Running on the trails means that you get to avoid the majority of that traffic.

A lack of traffic means that the air is probably going to be cleaner. It means that your run is going to be quieter. And most importantly, it means that your body is not going to get rammed into by a hunk of metal that is 20 times more massive.

Running on the trails does not mean that there will be no traffic. In the Summer, your local trails may have other runners, mountain bicyclists, and dirt bikes on them. In the Winter, you’ll see snowmobilers and skiers and snowshoers on the trails. All year round you will find animals on your trails. Most trails will still be far less trafficked than most of the routes you could run on the roads, and the majority of that traffic is far less obnoxious.

Major Advantage 2: Building Strength

Running on the trails involves far less repetitive motion and impact on your legs. Because you are constantly placing your foot differently with each step on most of the trails that you will find, you are not going to develop overuse injuries as swiftly as you would on the roads.

When you are running on a well maintained road, you can easily zone out and settle into a nice stride where each step is indistinguishable from the last step or the next step. On the trails, you need to avoid (or find) the rocks, keep yourself from stepping in holes or tripping on branches. Turns can come much more frequently than on the roads.

Every step that you take involves the buildup of kinetic energy. When your foot lands, that energy is either absorbed by the surface you are running on or it is returned through your legs upon impact with the surface. In reality, a percentage is always absorbed and always returned. When you run on asphalt, more kinetic energy is going to be returned through your legs, which helps you take the next step with that leg. It also increases the impact on that leg.

Running on grass or dirt causes more of that kinetic energy to be absorbed by the ground. You need to work harder to take each step on grass than on asphalt, and there is less impact. This means that you will be less prone to injury, and it also means that you will build up more strength.

Running through snow covered trails is even more work. A Winter spent running trails through snow can leave you with strong, injury resistant muscles come Spring. It is a great way to build your aerobic base.

Run Trails Today
Whether your trails are covered in snow or not, you should take the opportunity to run on your local trails on a regular basis. I try to run at least once or twice per week on the trails, sometimes more. Look for a local trail running club in your area to learn your way around.

Build up a good aerobic base, build up good lower body strength, become more resistant to injury, and have some fun.