Gone green

11053324_10203622516632757_331309758252501676_o If you are reading this then I make the assumption that you are already a runner – never assume anything I hear you say “It’ makes an ASS out of U and ME. But I will make that assumption any way and will gleen from that that you are therefore also aware of the many benefits of running. However you may be less aware of the benefits that trail running in particular brings. I have been running off road for many years and I believe that trail run­ning is bet­ter for both my physical and mental wellbeing. I am not suggesting that everyone should avoid any form of running on anything remotely tarmac-like for the rest of their lives. Not at all. I run on the road and enjoy it too. However for some, the thought of leaping over a gnarly tree stump or two on their next running jaunt, is very off putting and daunting. And it needn’t be. So with that in mind I want to give a few points to consider when you are next thinking about heading out the front door for a run. The dictionary definition of a trail is a follows: “a path or track made across a wild region, over rough country, or the like, by the passage of  people or animals”.

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Muscle development To that end the surface is vastly more uneven, rutty, and likely to be dotted with tree stumps, fallen branches, rocks, boulders, and the occasional small “darting in front of you” wild animal. This therefore makes the trail a lot more technically challenging than a nice solid chunk of flat road. The result of negotiating your way over and around these obstacles is that you bal­ance your body as you do so ,utilising the smaller and lesser-used mus­cles in your legs, core and arms. More often than not the sur­face of the trail is also much softer than tarmac or concrete,and very often highly muddy too.This causes  your step to depresses into the surface each time, requiring you to use more mus­cles each time you take a stride. The undulating nature of the trail also makes you use stabilising muscles that are engaged in side to side movements as opposed to relying purely on muscle groups for forward propullsion. All of this will help you become stronger in every muscle group needed for both forward and sideways movement equating to a more complete runner.

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Hills and hidden Intervals The terrain of the trail will make you conduct sets of intervals that are not unlike a fartlek session because your tempo will rise and fall in line with the topography. Running up the hills increases your heart rate in the same way a hard interval session on the road will. And easing up when cresting a ridge or along the bottom of a valley gives a period of recovery before you encounter the next hill. The undulating terrain of the trail offers the same benefits as targeted hill sessions on the road. The repetitive nature of engaging, your glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings further develops those muscles.The constantly undulating terrain coupled with the accumulation of intervals on hills will to help to make running hard sessions on the roads easier

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Less joint stress/improved ankle strength Because the surface is much more giving than concrete, then some of the force that is nor­mally trans­mit­ted back up from the pave­ment and through the ankles, knees, shins, and hips, is reduced when your foot hits the ground on the trails. The varying terrain combined with fleet footedly overcoming physical obstacles will force greater muscle engagement in the foot and ankle, that the constant one direction movement of road running leaves underworked.

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Green Exercise  Fresh air, running streams, quiet, calm, green spaces. No traffic (perhaps the odd cyclist, horse rider or another runner aside), no waiting at traffic lights or road junctions,no negotiating past gaggles of pedestrians oblivious to you behind them. As opposed to loud motorcycles tearing past me I much prefer the wind rusling the leaves on the trees. Trail run­ning can take us up the moun­tain, down the valley, over the river, through the woods, and along the plain. Without question this presents us, not only with a vastly more scenic view, but also with the additional benefits in terms of mental wellbeing, than we could ever dream for on an urban saunter along the road. Not convinced? I will explain Green exercise in a little more detail (just a little bit) and see if I can change your mind. Green exercise refers to physical exercise undertaken in natural enviroments. As we, as runners are only too aware, physical exercise is well known to provide physical and physcological health benefits. There is also good evidence that viewing, being in, and interacting with natural environments has positive effects, reducing stress and increasing the ability to cope with stress, as well as reducing mental fatigue and improving concentration and cognitive function. Researchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Essex are advanc­ing the notion that exer­cis­ing in the pres­ence of nature has added ben­e­fit, par­tic­u­larly for men­tal health. Their inves­ti­ga­tions into green exer­cise, dove­tails with research show­ing ben­e­fits from liv­ing in prox­im­ity to green, open spaces. In 2010 sci­en­tists reported results from a meta-analysis of their own stud­ies that showed just five min­utes of green exer­cise resulted in improve­ments in self-esteem and mood.” Fancy hitting the trail yet? 🙂

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