Health & Fitness.

The Ups and the Downs Of Trails

I have met several people who run trails who only run trails because it’s so much easier on their body.

And while I don’t deny that is true for those runners, I would never say it’s true for everyone. And many times I think it’s not true for me.

Like last week, when I busted my ass on the fourth step I took on my run. And then I struggled for the following nine miles where everything hurt because I had fallen and my feet were stumbling and kicking roots and the entire nine miles made me want to quit running trails and never do it again.

But then yesterday, Donnie and I set out for 19 miles. We were doing the 9-mile course loops from my 50K twice and I knew it needed to go well to give me the confidence I needed for the 50K. And it ended up being the perfect example of the ups and downs of a trail run.

I survived the initial tough part of the course going slow and easy and the weather was gorgeous and the trees were lovely and my legs were alive and great. But by mile 19 I was tired, everything hurt, I had nearly fallen 100 times and while my last mile was wonderful, there were many tough ones in between. Tough miles when I thought Why in the hell am I doing this?

With trails, the goods are GREAT but the bads SUCK GIANT DONKEY BALLS.

But – along the way – here are some of the things I’ve learned.

  • An ankle turn is not the end of the world. My left ankle is weak. I’ve turned it bad before and stopped running. But once someone said they turned their ankles all the time and kept running and was amazed how running would help the pain. So, I tried it. And she’s right. I turned my left ankle about 20 times yesterday. Once or twice it hurt so bad I thought I might have to stop, but I ran it out and it loosened up again. It’s a very weird thing and I don’t know how to draw the line. But – I’ve been running under this theory for awhile. And yesterday I proved it over and over again for 19 miles.
  • Tired legs are super-risky. I haven’t figured out how to compensate for tired legs. But I know they are dangerous. I know I stumble more and trip more when my legs are tired. I can run 19 miles on the road and not run a greater risk of falling towards the end because the road is flat and – even if I drag my tired legs – obstacles are not there to catch me. The second half of my run yesterday was HARD. I kept catching roots and turning ankles and while I never fell, I almost did often enough that my adrenaline was powering me through.
  • Trust yourself. The trick to getting better on trails is learning to trust your quick decisions. Trust that you can compensate no matter where your food lands. Simple focus on avoiding big hazards but don’t fret over trying to plan every single step. It’s impossible if you’re running. So you have to leave a little bit to trusting your feet and legs to compensate. This is a hard to thing to quantify but it’s something I’ve noticed has changed dramatically from when I first started running trails. And I’m a klutz! So if I learn to trust my legs…anyone can.
  • The miles may take more time, but they still feel like they pass by faster. Because you have to focus on the trail ahead 99% of the time, you don’t find yourself focusing on your distance and how slow the miles are going. On the road? Without people to run with or anything to listen to? My miles take FOREVER. But on the trails? I can only focus on where my feet are landing and therefore, before I know it, I’ve been running an hour. It’s much easier on my mind. It also makes me take a break from the rest of the world because – for four hours yesterday – I could only think about roots and rocks on the trail ahead. It’s lovely.

I know that – even as much as I love trails – I would never give up miles on the road. Overall? I still feel like they’re easier. Maybe because I don’t have knee problems. Or plantar faciaitis (many of my PF friends swear by the trails). But the benefits do NOT outweigh the risks of other injury for me. Now, I still would never give them up because the benefits are worth the risk periodically. But overall? For someone like me right now in my life? I feel like the road miles are gentler on my body.

4 thoughts on “The Ups and the Downs Of Trails”

  1. stupid question, but how did you find the trails to run? did your running group tell you/show you? i’d love to try it, but i’m a tad afraid of running groups and haven’t been very successful in my area using google….

  2. It’s a combination of both, unfortunately. And old coach of mine offered to take some of us newbies out in the beginning and then we started braving it on our own with maps. The thing that helped (on my own or not) was using trails associated with an actual EVENT. Because – it seems to be around here anyway – that if the course is part of some sort of big race, someone has taken the time to do a step-by-step description of the course so that out-of-towners can try to figure it out too. Three of our local big trail races put together all have really good verbal descriptions of the courses. As a matter of fact, having those printouts saved me one time because I ran out of trail and when I traced my steps back on the printout with me I realized I had made a wrong turn where the printout said, “Do not follow your instincts here, the trail looks like it leads one way but you need to follow the blue hatch marks around the capstones.” I hadn’t done that, I had followed the trail. So the printout actually even accounted for your instincts. It was really nice.

    I hope this helps!

  3. thank you!!!! 🙂 i dont think we have a ton of trail running around here (buffalo, ny), but i will keep my eyes out. may be worth a stop into fleet feet one of these days to just suck it up and ask them…

  4. It’s funny because our local Fleet Feet just started (2 weeks ago) their first ever Beginner trail running session. They meet on Sundays at 7am up on the mountain here and a lot of them are walkers just trying to figure out their way around the trails before the decide whether they want to run them. The class is huge which made me excited that so many people are interested. If they had done it last year it would have been a HUGE help for me!!!! Good luck!

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