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Let's Hit the Trails!

Let’s face it, once you start running trails, roads just flat out suck. I’ll give you my professional opinions and rationale, but let’s start by me just giving you an opinion from a runner’s standpoint.

Running helps me clear my mind and organize my thoughts. It helps me take the chaos of daily life and organize that chaos into neat, orderly piles on my proverbial mental desk, making problems easier to sort out and clear up. Whatever troubles I have either get solved on the run, or don’t seem as bad after a run. On the road, you are still in the world we experience on a daily basis. Running still has those benefits, but you still have to dodge cars, run by houses and be reminded of the daily rigmarole we are all so stuck in. On the trail, you reconnect with nature, and tap into your primal DNA. You step into a world that has a second hand that beats to a different clock. You can be a part of the beauty this world has to offer, not just think about it or see it in magazines. If you’ve struggled with the idea of trying trail running for fear of tick bites, sprained ankles, broken toes or getting lost, I encourage you to find some friends, find some organized races and organized trails and give it a try! You will truly find out what running can be.

Why are trails better than roads? I’ll break it down to 3 main categories; Form, pacing and time.

Form is better on trails. On roads, people have tendencies to settle in to strides and patterns of gait that can lead to overuse injuries such as Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, patella-femoral pain (runner’s knee) and IT band problems among other ailments. If someone has a stooped posture while running, all of these possibilities become much more likely the longer you are on that road maintaining that form. On the trail, you are encouraged (through fear of falling) to slow down a bit, stay more upright (better posture) and be sure to lift your legs off the ground as opposed to the shuffling so many road runners do while fatiguing late in runs. Fall on your face, turn an ankle, kick a root or rock and you will be reminded that you need to lift your legs off the ground and maintain your form. Additionally, due to the variations in the terrain, you won’t be able to maintain bad form for extended periods of time at a pace that is too great, not to mention, the pounding on the feet is much less in the woods than it is on asphalt.

Pacing is a major problem many runners have. On the roads, runners generally try to outpace their fitness level. On trails, the need to careful and more attentive usually means a more manageable pace and one that is more sustainable throughout the run. Also, there seems to be less shame in walking up steeper hills and inclines in the woods vs. the roads. Runners often become too focused on running a certain distance or a certain time and try and run faster in the beginning with the hope that the run will be over quicker. Improved focus on proper pacing will ensure a run that has more consistent effort throughout as well as leave you feeling strong at the end of every run, not too mention, finishing the run sooner than expected.

Speaking of which, time is experienced differently on the trails.  A 3 hour trail run is the equivalent of about 60  minutes on the road and 30-40 minutes on a treadmill! Being in nature forces you to be aware of your surroundings; be it the terrain you are running on, the tries or the little creatures roaming around. When you are focused on that, you are not focused on the time. When you run and have no awareness of time, then it’s easier to achieve a state of flow where you are in the rhythm of movement and nothing else. Try it! You will be amazed to find that hours go by in the blink of an eye.

There are of course potential drawbacks to trail running. Injury is a risk. So be careful and again, focus on posture and form. Safety is also a concern, be it from bee stings, ticks, bug bites, wild animals (night running) or from human predators (ladies please run with a partner). Lastly, getting lost happens! Make sure you have a GPS enabled cell phone (and service) and enough nutrition/hydration to last about an hour longer than expected when running new trails for the 1st time. However, getting lost sometimes is half the fun!! Enjoy and run safe…

Dr. Neil Feldman Dr. Neil Feldman is a Podiatrist at Central Massachusetts Podiatry, in Worcester and Westborough. As an ultramarathoner, runner and triathlete, he loves to help his patients remain consistent with their regular activities, assist in getting patients back to health and dedicates himself to patients achieving their goal events and races from walking the Camino de Santiago, to a first 5k run, to Ironman to a 250 mile run…and yes, that’s a thing!!

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