Trail Running to Prevent Injuries
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
I am a runner. I like to run. For many years, I have run in organized events from 5km all the way to marathons and lots of distances in between.
Through my years and experience as a runner, I have suffered my share of injuries. Most of them were repetitive strain or overuse injuries that occurred from putting one foot in front of the other for thousands of steps in a row on a flat hard surface.
I don’t begrudge the road or my insistence on continuing to run on the road despite ending up in pain on more than one occasion.
I got the benefit of the fitness, the finish line and the knowledge of what those injuries feel like to take back to my practice with me so that I could find ways to help other athletes skip that part of the running experience. (or at the very least help them recover if they happen to end up in a similar state)
After all of that road running and accompanying injuries, I started heading off the road and into trail running.
Trail running has become my new passion and it’s how I have been spending my fitness time through this past spring, summer and fall.
I love the feeling of heading out through the woods on a single track trail covered in roots, rocks and up-and-down hills. The sites, sounds and smells along the way really make for an all round awesome workout experience.
Along with having this wonderful exercise ‘date’ with Mother Nature, there are some other benefits to putting one foot in front of the other on a trail.
The challenge of the terrain of a trail which can include rocks, roots rolling hills, mud and puddles forces you to stay focused in the moment.
I personally find that when I am always focused on my next step, the burning in my lungs and my tired body are less of a distraction than they might be on the road where I don’t have to stay as focused on my footsteps.
Running on a trail will also improve your balance, coordination, and strength while decreasing the risk for repetitive strain or overuse injuries.
If you put one foot in front of the other repetitively for thousands of steps in a row on a flat surface, which is the case with road running, the same muscles are doing the same job every step.
This makes you susceptible to repetitive strain or overuse type injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and Achilles tendinitis. These common running injuries are the injuries that I have personally experienced and the injuries that I see every day in my office.
There are a couple of reasons why running on trails will help you to avoid these types of injuries.
First, the earth and the trail terrain whether it is gravel, woodchips, grass or dirt is more forgiving to your body with repetitive running steps than the pavement of a road run.
The uneven, varied surfaces that your feet come into contact with on a trail provide a different stimulus to your body every step which over time improves balance and encourages strengthening of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules from your feet and ankles all the way to your hips and low back.
So essentially, instead of taking the same step every step for thousands of steps, using the same muscles…
…the trail requires different muscles every step which mixes it up and allows for your body to get stronger over all.
There are a few things to be aware of if you head out on the trails as there are some potential pitfalls in this type of workout.
First of all, make sure that you run with a partner or let someone know where you will be and take a cell phone with you. This is good practice in any kind of running but is especially important if you are heading out somewhere a bit more remote.
Even though the terrain may give your body a break in terms of repetitive strain type injuries, if you aren’t careful it can increase your chance for trips and falls, especially if you are tempted to look around while running on the trail.
It definitely is beautiful, but take a walk or water break and walk for a minute or two if you want to look around. Otherwise, keep your eyes on the few feet in front of you to avoid trips and falls.
Also, make sure to bring snacks and water with you as you probably won’t be running by a variety store any time on your trail run 🙂
It’s a good idea to run for time rather than for distance when you are out on the trails. The challenging terrain can slow down even the most experienced runners to sometimes half the speed that they might run on the road.
Trail running is something that I have fallen in love with over the past few years and I highly recommend it for some cross training or a break from the intensity of road running, especially if you have struggled with injury.
Get out and say hello to Mother Nature!
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series ‘Living Well” inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.