Nothing rouses a runner’s self-discipline quite like training for a road race. Whether it’s preparing for a 5K or a marathon, getting in the best possible shape for the big event usually means setting a clear training schedule and sticking to it. While challenging oneself to stay fully committed to a plan during weeks and months of tough sessions has a certain appeal, becoming overly obsessed with hitting every target on the calendar can turn training into a mental and physical grind. As road-race training plans tend to focus exclusively on road and track work, the lack of variety in sessions can make training feel even more taxing.
Adding the occasional trail run to a road-race training schedule can be a great way to keep training fresh without having to sacrifice crucial road or track sessions. You can tuck a trail run seamlessly into an existing training plan by scheduling it on a dedicated easy-run day, or on days when the schedule gives the option for either a rest day or an easy run. However it best fits best into the schedule, here are four reasons road runners may want to consider taking the odd trip down the trail.
Enhanced stability and strength
Navigating hills, rocks and uneven terrain on trail runs forces runners to engage a wider range of muscles, including those in the glutes, hips and core, which are often neglected during road running. Further developing these muscles can help runners enhance stability, power and injury prevention–benefits that can reap rewards as runners progress in their road training.
Reduced impact on joints
Trails generally have softer surfaces, such as dirt or grass, which reduces the impact on joints and can help prevent injuries like shin splints. A recent study found adding too many fast kilometers too quickly, as can happen in speed-focused road and track sessions, is more likely to lead to tibial stress fractures than taking on the steeper, slower climbs associated with trail running.
Study finds speedwork (not hill repeats) more likely to cause stress fractures in runners
Improved aerobic fitness
The generally slower pace of trail running lends itself to training at an easier effort, which can strengthen aerobic capacity. Training in the aerobic zone can help increase the body’s ability to take in, transport, and use oxygen, leading to improved running performance and greater endurance capacity.
Greater mental stimulation
The changing scenery and the need to focus on the trail can offer a mental escape from the monotony of running only on the road. It can be an engaging and exciting experience that helps alleviate boredom and keep the mind sharp. Trail running allows you to explore new areas, discover hidden gems and become immersed in nature’s beauty.