The purpose of this column is to present an alternative to traditional running that will allow training on more interesting and less stressful surfaces such as those used when hiking, mountain biking and horse riding trails in the beautiful woods of Northeast Pennsylvania.
A few weeks ago, when the temperatures soared above 90, my family and I went kayaking at Lackawanna State Park. However, as a typical runner, after a few hours of relaxation on the lake, I needed to do something different. Of course, I had my running gear in the car (just in case) and went for a run. As I set out on State Road 348, the sun was beating down on me. I happened to see a sign that read, “Orchard Trail, Bull Hill Trail, Tree Line Trail.” I thought it might be a good idea to find some shade and decided to run on this path normally used for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. It turned out to be a great decision. While I was forced to run 25% slower due to the uneven terrain, I was able to practice “light running” techniques by running with short strides on the balls of my feet. I felt much more refreshed as I avoided the direct sunlight under the cover of the trees. Furthermore, I enjoyed the up close view of nature as I ran by cool streams and wet mossy rocks. I saw beautiful flowers, rhododendron, and mountain laurel. I observed deer, chipmunks and birds. In my quest to avoid the hot sun, I discovered the beautiful underworld of “trail running” – a growing trend in today’s running community. If you, like me, have been running for many years, trail running can help you rediscover why you love to run. It is beautiful, peaceful, natural and unique. It is fun to get in touch with your inner child as you run in the woods and get muddy. Trail running makes running fun!
The trail running community purports that trail running is popular because it satisfies a primal need for man to move through nature, derived from hunter/gatherer days. Others who promote trail running feel the popularity is due to the many advantages it offers. One, trail running prevents impact injuries due to soft surfaces. Two, the training style of running with shorter strides on the ball of the foot, lessens impact. Three, this type of running will develop stronger ankles and trunk core muscles while improving balance, coordination and proprioception from running on uneven surfaces. Lastly, the ability to release copious amounts of endorphins while breathing fresh air instead of roadside fumes is invaluable.
Sources: American Trail Running Association, Trailspace.com
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of Scranton, PT Dept.