Off The Beaten Path: How Trail Running Can Help Boost Your Workouts




It’s funny how our health can take a backseat to other daily priorities.  That’s exactly what happened to me in my early thirties.  Granted, it wasn’t like I was being lazy.   I was working to build a business, advance my career, get married, the list goes on.  All of a sudden, several years had passed and my five-time-per-week gym habit had turned to one or two days, at best.  I was not eating healthy, and I certainly wasn’t getting enough exercise.

Since the glory days of high school, lifting weights had been my main source of exercise.  To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to getting back to the gym, as it had grown a little stale.  I was looking for something else to help keep me motivated and get back to feeling healthy.  My wife is an avid runner and talked me into giving running a try.  I really wanted to be motivated, but the idea of logging endless miles pounding away on the pavement didn’t excite me like I was hoping.

I was living in Knoxville, TN and went down to our local running store (a shout out to Runner’s Market!) and started asking questions.  What I learned is, there’s a vibrant and growing community of trail runners and trail races.  I had never heard of trail running and it piqued my interest.  The store had a map book of all the local trails, so I purchased a copy and decided to hit the dirt.

There was a trail near work,  so the following day, I headed out to see what trail running was all about.  I still remember that first run at IC King Park.  It was awesome!  I realized I hadn’t run through the woods since childhood and was flooded with a vast array of wonderful memories, as well as a good dose of adrenaline.  My wife listened patiently that evening as I raved about my run.  I remember telling her that I thought I had run about five miles at a pretty decent pace.

I quickly realized a GPS watch was going to be a helpful tool on the trails, and after grabbing up a Garmin, went back to retrace my trek of that first run.  Instead of the impressive 5 mile run I though I had done, it was more like 2.8!  That was my first lesson in trail running.  You are not going as far, or as fast, as you think!

I love running the trails, and here are a few reasons to give trail running a shot, if you haven’t already:

Softer Terrain – After all the abuse our body’s absorb while running on the pavement, give your body a break!  I found running on the trails to by much easier on my joints.  I rarely have any joint pain after a nice trail run.  Even longer runs of 15-20 miles are pretty easy on the body.  If your body is fighting you on long runs, maybe it’s time to try the trail and see how you fare.  Your joints will thank you.

No Traffic – Sick of breathing car exhaust throughout your entire run?  It’s time to hit the trails.  By getting off the highways and onto the trails, you can create long, uninterrupted runs.  No more stopping at crosswalks, or waiting for traffic to clear.  Most mornings, I don’t even see any other runners.  It’s like having my own personal training grounds.  The peacefulness of the environment is a great way to release the stress and noise of our lives.

Various Degrees of Intensity – While running the trails, you will need to be focused, watching where you’re stepping, trying to avoid roots and fallen trees, and dealing with changes in elevation.  While running a new trail, you won’t know what type of challenge is lurking around the next corner.  These unknown variables can lead to some intense workouts.  It’s entirely possible to get some agility work, speed work, and hill work wrapped into a single run.  Running on a trail may be the missing link to help boost you past your current plateau.

Variety is the Spice of Life – By breaking up my normal road running routine, the occasional trail run helps to keep me motivated to continue my running journey.  It helps to break up the monotony of a run, and of a week.  If your running routine is getting a little stale, get on the trail to see if it helps rejuvenate your love of running.

For all of the reasons above, and more,  a majority of my training has taken place on the trails.  I no longer live in Knoxville, and finding good trails in Central Illinois is a difficult task, but they are out there.  Even in the flat-lands there are decent trails and some really great trail races, too.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to get out and run a trail, grab a friend and give it a try!

**I would love to hear about your first trail running experience in the notes below.




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