The MOVE by BJC Blog

Is Trail Running Right for You?

Is Trail Running Right for You?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Many people believe that running an ultra-marathon is easier than running a road marathon. Running a road race is hard, the ground is hard, keeping a particular pace is hard, and as you get older it’s harder on your joints. I have run a lot of road races and “ran through” a lot of running aches and pains. Being an endurance athlete means you do a lot of the same motions with your body over and over again. When I started experiencing overuse injuries due to the repetitive motion of running, I began looking for different modes of aerobic exercise such as cycling, swimming or various cardio equipment. However, I always ended up back at running. After countless 5ks, 10ks and half-marathons, I started looking into training for another marathon -- but with a lingering hamstring injury I knew I wouldn’t be posting a personal record in time. 

In searching for marathons to sign up for, I started finding a lot of trail races with incredible distances (50ks, 50 miles, 100 miles). How is this humanly possible? How are so many people becoming ultra-marathoners now? After a little research into trail running, I started stumbling out into the woods. Stumbling is the best verb to use. I was twisting my ankles every run over the rough terrains of rocks, tree roots and everything else. Trying to run uphill would exceed my maximum heart rate and tire me out before I even got started. 

So, I went back to the drawing board and did a little more research. I started talking to local runners, reading articles and listening to podcasts about trail running. Here is what I found out:

  • Almost no one runs up steep hills, they fast hike. Trail running for most people is about covering the distance, not winning the race. Walking/hiking allows you to maintain a heart rate in your comfortable aerobic zone.
  • SLOW DOWN. You won’t be able to finish the race if you’re falling over everything on the trail and burning your legs out by rushing up the hills. Listen to your body and keep yourself in check. Your pace will be slower starting off on trails than on the road.
  • Learn to be self-sufficient. Invest in carrying your own water, electrolytes and food either by stuffing it in your pockets or buying a hydration vest. Most ultra-marathons are cup-free for the environment and have limited aid stations. The hydration vests supply water bladders and pockets for gels to assist you as you run.
  • Do your research. Search for local trail running groups and training programs. Find races within your abilities. Find out what type food and water will be at the aid stations on race day. Find out as much information as you can before race day.
  • Ask questions. If you are not sure whether you’re doing something right, seek out advice from local running groups or race directors. The community in trail racing is like no other -- everyone is friendly and willing to help out.
  • Get to the start line. We often fail before we even begin. Do you research, train effectively, come up with a game plan before race day and provide yourself the best advantages for that day.

Trail running opened up a whole new world for me in aerobic activities. The variant terrain has helped with some of my muscular imbalances built up over the years of running on the road.  The views of nature help clear my head after a long day. Trail running allows me to run my dog more through the summer with the shade from trees and water from creeks. Nature provides us with an awesome outdoor activity beneficial to our mental and physical health.

- Alex Rosenow