There are many benefits to taking your run off roads.
Trail running is a popular sport that attracts people from all walks of life. Some do it for exercise, some for the adventure, and others for the meditative benefits of being in nature. Maybe you’re trying to figure out why you should trail run. Here are six reasons to give trail running a try.
1. Trail running is great for overall fitness.
Any activity that moves your body in a way that feels good and brings joy is an excellent form of fitness. The physical benefits of trail running are numerous, including improved cardiovascular health, increased strength, and improved balance and agility. Trail running can help build stronger muscles and enhance strength throughout the body because all muscles can be engaged during the run, including legs, torso and arms.
You don’t even have to plan epic, long trail runs to reap the benefits. Research has found that minimal running training volumes of 30–59 minutes a week, or 5–10 minutes a day are associated with lower risks of cardiovascular health complications.
One reason many trail runners choose dirt over pavement is because trail running can reduce risk of injuries that road runners sometimes struggle with. This is because every foot strike on a trail surface is different, as opposed to the repetitive motion of running on flat and rigid pavement, and surfaces that are softer than pavement can help reduce shock that the body feels with each foot strike.
2. Your mental health gets a boost.
Trail running improves mental wellbeing, too. It’s a great form of stress relief. Research reported by the American Psychological Association has shown that spending time in nature can boost your mood, and the sense of connection with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed. Imagine the benefits when you’re running trails in the woods! Experiments have also found that being exposed to natural environments improves memory, cognitive flexibility and attention span.
A physiological and psychological exercise that emerged in Japan in the 1980s and practiced widely around the world today is called “shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing.” National Geographic reports the purpose was twofold: to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.
For those who spend a lot of time living and working in urban environments, escaping for a run in nature, even a small green space in the heart of the city, can have great psychological benefits.
3. Trail running gets you in the moment (and keeps you there).
One of the things we love about running trails is that it helps you practice how to be truly present in the moment. Instead of zoning out like you might when running on a treadmill or road running, trail running keeps you engaged mentally because you’re paying attention to obstacles on the trail and constantly changing scenery. While there is a certain amount of zen and a meditative value that comes from being in nature, you’re still tackling challenges that require active thought.
4. It’s as athletic or chill as you want it to be.
Everyone likes to set personal goals and see improvements over time, and pace is an easy data set to observe improvement. However, many trail runners have perfected the art of letting pace expectations go. Because of the varied terrain, trail running can involve plenty of walking, especially on the uphills to maintain heart rate. But to make up for it, you can run the flat sections and downhills. Just run what feels good! Over time, you’ll see improvements and can increase your speed, distance or tackle harder trails for new challenges.
5. The dirtier you get, the more fun it is.
Dirt, puddles, and mud are nothing to be afraid of. They’re part of the allure of trail running! Kids play in puddles and dirt without a second thought, but many adults lose that sense of play somewhere along the way, and trail running can bring it back. According to a New York Times article, “Play offers a reprieve from the chaos, and it challenges us to connect with a key part of ourselves that gets lost in the responsibilities of adulthood.” So hit the trails and jump in all of the muddy puddles. Just don’t forget to bring a change of shoes and clothes for the ride home!
6. Trail runners are a fun crowd.
Speaking of playfulness, the trail running community is generally a fun place to be. Sure, there are ultra-competitive training groups and events, but most people are running trails because they want to enjoy nature while getting a good workout in. It’s nice to share that time with like-minded folks and encourage each other to find new trails to explore together.
If you decide to get into racing and longer distances, trail runners are well known for their unique fueling solutions. Many swap out fuels like gummies and gels in favor of bacon, salted potatoes, chips, PB&J and Coca Cola. It’s a weird, wild world out there in the woods, but with snacks like that, it sounds like a party!
Still not sure if trail running is for you? Check out key differences between trail running versus road running or hiking and learn how to get the most out of the experience. When you’re ready, here’s our guide on how to get started trail running for tips on gearing up and finding trails to run.
Check out our blog for more tips to help you take the trail less traveled.