I just completed a 3 mile trail run through the woods at a local park. It was a beautiful morning for a run even though I am not one to enjoy running.
I’m not an endurance athlete. Though I prefer several sets of short sprints, I do like to run distance outside on occasion. What I don’t like about road running are car fumes, pavement or cement, and running in a straight line is just boring to me. Not because it’s easy by any means. But because, mentally, I need something to keep me excited about what I am doing. The same goes for bicycling on the road. I think to myself “when will this be done?” I simply don’t enjoy it.
I’ve found running or cycling on trails in the woods however to be different. I am not knocking road running at all. But if you find it to be monotonous, I am suggesting that you try trail running as an alternative.
Running on trails in the woods has different risks than road running. Like road running, you need to be sure that you are careful and prepared in order to minimize the risk of injury. And, be sure that you discuss your exercise program with your physician if you have any medical issues, concerns, or limitations.
Trail running adds a variety of obstacles and opportunities to your workout. Obstacles include roots, rocks, trees, bushes, bugs, critters, water, logs, and ledges that require increased attention and focus. Opportunities are limitless. You can do a variety of exercises along the way. You can do high knees over fallen branches, pick up a small log and do squats, curls, or overhead presses, incline push ups on a fallen log or stump, or just pretend you are being chased by a bear!
The first time you plan to run on a new trail, take it slow so that you can get to know the terrain before “attacking it”. I scope out my routes slowly and carefully before using them as part of a regular more intense workout.
Start by warming up. For today’s run, I started on the flats – pavement in the parking lot in fact – and eased on to a flatter portion of the trail. I started slowly and paid close attention to the variations in terrain. Once you feel warmed up, you can pick up the pace. I like seeking out the hillier parts of the trail where there are some roots and narrow areas because they keep me focused. I don’t venture into sections of the trail haphazardly however! I always know what is in front of me!
I’ve discovered two sections of my route where I can do hill sprints once a week. There is one point where I must cross over a stream stepping rock to rock. I leave the main trail by climbing downhill over rocks to run through some thicker woods. Near the finish there is a long hill that I try to sprint up and jog down. The cool down is on the flatter part of the trail near the start.
Your time may be slower than your road time because of the variations in terrain but it also allows you to take in the benefits of outdoor activity. Intermittent walking and running is perfectly fine! It allows you to take in the scenery and the many benefits of exercising outdoors. There is an excellent article by Dr. Mercola on the many benefits of outdoor activity. (During Spring, Summer, and Autumn our f(XTC) classes try to stay outside to workout as much as possible! Early morning fresh air as the sun rises makes for a great start to the day!)
For your next workout, get outside and take a walk or run through some trails near your home. Use your good judgement on the terrain, know your limits and risk tolerance, and enjoy nature! It will clear your head and you will feel refreshed!