8 Ways Trail Running Can Improve Your 5K
Slow Down on Recovery Runs
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Even on easy days, running on the road has a way of turning every workout into a race. Most trails aren't flat and require you to watch your footing, which will force you to slow down. Using trails to keep yourself from running too fast on recovery runs can be a good way to introduce yourself to the benefits of trail running.
Adapt to the Unpredictable
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Unlike the road, the terrain on trails is constantly changing. Sand, rocks, tree roots and branches are just a few of the obstacles that might be in your way, forcing you to adapt your stride. This adaptability translates well to road running, a skill you'll need in order to deal with the changes in pace that occur during a race.
Less-Impact on Your Joints
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Running on a concrete sidewalk is the worst surface for your knees. Dirt, on the other hand, gives more and saves your knees from absorbing all of the impact. Instead of running six days out of the week on the road, one or two days a week of trail running could save your legs and make it easier to recover from one run to the next—meaning you'll be able to run more frequently.
Improve Your Running Form
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It's easier to over stride on the road, especially on flat ground. To improve running form, shorter, more compact strides are recommended. Running on a trail can be a natural way to change your gait. The constant changing from inclines to declines will help you to run more on the balls of your feet instead of striking at the heel.
Listen to Your Body
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Road running often turns into a staring contest with your watch. Worrying about splits, mile pace and how tired you are become distractions. Your watch is less useful on trail runs since each mile is different and your pace will vary, depending on the terrain. This will teach you to listen to your body, which is especially important during a race. Relying less on your watch every now and then can also help to remind you that running is fun and doesn't always have to be regimented all the time.
Build Strength in Different Muscle Groups
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The muscles you develop for straight-line speed are different from the muscles used for lateral movement. Because trail running requires more side-to-side motion than road running, you'll work your abductors and your core muscles, which will improve your overall speed.
Improve Your Aerobic Capacity
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The slower pace on technical trails will keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone and make it less likely for you to ease into anaerobic heart rates even when you aren't trying to. This can be good for active recovery runs or for long-endurance runs when the focus is on going long instead of fast.
Run Away From the Stress of the Road
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Running on the road often requires dealing with cars and stoplights. The constant stopping and going can break up your rhythm and make a short run feel long—something you won't have to deal with on the trail. You also won't have to worry about breathing in all the fumes from passing cars, which can be bad for your lungs. Trail running a few times per week can provide a nice way to escape from the stress on the roads and leave you feeling more energized about running the next time out.