For experienced off-road runners, there's no better terrain than a dirt trail. But for those just beginning to venture off the pavement, trail running presents some unique challenges.
Body aches, unpredictable terrain and the steep hills often found on trails can be intimidating to newbies. And is trail running really a low-impact alternative to road running, or can it be just as injurious?
We asked running coach, Tim Neckar, to help us address some of the questions and concerns that beginning trail runners frequently ask.
Is Trail Running Easier on the Body Than Road Running?
Trail running does offer some definite advantages over road running, primarily because of its softer terrain. The soft, moveable surface of the trail absorbs impact and helps to prevent shock to your joints from pounding. "I can do a 50K trail run without soreness the next day," Neckar reports. "If I were to do a road marathon, I'd be out for two or three days. Concrete really affects the body," he says.
Trail running also works to strengthen muscles. Because of its uneven terrain, a greater number of muscles are required. As muscles get stronger, it takes less effort to move forward and trails get easier to traverse. This makes it possible to train longer, with less impact.
Why Am I Sore After Running on a Trail?
Trail running does reduce the pounding produced by road running, but that doesn't mean it can't leave a new trail runner "feeling it" after a long run.
"There will be a transition period when the body will feel sore," says Neckar. Trails require the body to use muscles that it doesn't use on road runs.
Runners will feel soreness until their muscles adapt. Incorporate trail runs into your routine 2 to3 times per week, and soreness should be eliminated within a few weeks. "You'll feel sore for a while, but once you're used to it, you're good to go."
How Do I Train for Trail Running?
Neckar suggests that runners perform hill repeats to increase their strength and endurance. One of his favorite workouts is called the Endless Mountain .
In this workout, the runner uses a treadmill to increase his/her incline by 1 percent every two minutes. On the trails, Neckar suggests that runners split a workout into two parts. "For the first half of the workout, sprint uphill and walk down. For the second half, sprint uphill and run down," he says .
This will help to ensure that any hills a runner encounters on a trail run can be maneuvered with ease.
How Do I Manage My Footing?
One of the biggest mistakes newbie runners make with trail running is in their descents. When running downhill, many newbie trail runners will just lean back and brake by striking with the heel first. This puts undue pounding and pressure on the joints.
Instead, runners should approach a downhill by leaning slightly forward from the hips, not the waist. "Be on your forefoot," suggests Neckar. "By striking the ground with the front of the foot first, there will be less of a tendency to turn an ankle."
In addition, the stride will be more fluid, avoiding unnecessary stress to the hips, knees and ankles. Improve your downhill running form, include hill repeats, and run more often on trails to for a pleasant,manageable transition from the road to the trail.
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