7 Reasons You Should Take Your Running Off-Road

There’s no denying that road running is a great workout. It’s perhaps the most convenient way to exercise, but it’s not always the most enjoyable. There are cars to contend with, it can be jarring to your body, and running the same few loops through your town eventually just gets boring.

If you’ve found yourself tending toward the “hate” end of your love-hate relationship with running lately, it might be time to try taking your runs off-road. Trails are a lot like roads, except they’re a little more challenging and far more enjoyable. There are plenty of reasons it’s worth switching from pavement to dirt, starting with these seven:

1. It’s a good excuse to slow down

Sure, running fast has its benefits—and getting faster is often a runner’s main goal—but slowing down every once in a while is good for you, too. The road, however, has a sneaky way of making runners feel like they constantly need to push their pace. When you hit the trail, the roots, rocks, uneven terrain, and steeper inclines naturally force you to run slower. In fact, expect a pace anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your typical rate. But, you’ll never feel guilty about it.

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2. There’s no traffic

If you enjoy the smell of exhaust, horns honking, doing that silly jog-in-place thing road runners do at intersections, and the risk of getting hit by a car, then by all means keep pounding the pavement. But, if you’re looking for a way to get away from all the noise, fill your lungs with fresh air, only stop when you want to, and not have to worry about being pancaked, it’s time to hit the trail. As a bonus, the animals you’ll see will generally be alive, instead of mangled in the middle of the road—just be sure to keep your distance from them.

3. The scenery is way better

Every once in a while on a road run, I’ll pass by a building or house that looks cool enough to make me slow down and stare for a second. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing truly fascinating or beautiful to look at when you hit the streets. Trails, on the other hand, are much more aesthetically pleasing, from the colors, including lush greens in spring and summer, bright reds and yellows and oranges in the fall, and enchanting crystalline whites in the winter, to the way the sun shines through the trees to reaching scenic vistas and overlooks. Nothing you see on the road will ever beat the magic of the wilderness.

4. You’ll develop greater proprioception

In addition to being a fun word to say, proprioception is hugely important when it comes to running. After all, without awareness of where your body and its parts are in space, you wouldn’t be able to run without looking down at your feet the entire time. With all of the extra obstacles trail running presents—things like rocks, roots, fallen trees, and water crossings—your proprioceptors get as good a workout as the rest of you. In turn, this leads to better stability, balance, and the ability to better judge when and how to adjust your stride whenever you encounter one of those aforementioned obstacles.

5. It’s easier on your joints

There’s a reason people refer to road running as “pounding pavement.” Paved roads are hard, and every time your foot strikes down, a shockwave runs through your body. Of course, our bodies are designed to handle this kind of stress, and for the most part, they’re really good at it. But, over time, it can lead to trouble, especially in your knees. Running on trails reduces some of that stress. Particularly, the ground is softer, allowing your foot to slightly sink in when it lands and absorbing some of the shock before it makes its way up your leg.

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6. It’s a better workout

Running on the road is an incredible workout. It builds strength in the legs, increases cardio fitness, and burns a lot of calories. Running on a trail does all of that, in addition to naturally incorporating lateral (side to side) movements by forcing you to avoid obstacles, improving balance, and potentially burning even more calories.

7. It makes you faster on the road

Because trail running offers a better overall workout—especially if you do your hill repeats in the woods, which generally have steeper, more sustained inclines than paved hills—your overall running fitness and economy will improve. Don’t be surprised when your road running paces start to get faster as you spend more time on the trails.

 

Now you tell me: Are you a trail running convert? What made you switch? Or, are you sticking it out on the road (and why)? Leave your thoughts in the comments!