Running off-road in the fall and winter months can be immensely beneficial to how well you run on the road in the spring and summer months. Here are three of the main benefits to running off-road.
Trail running typically generates less impact than running on hard pavement. Part of the reason is obvious- the surface is simply less hard- you are landing on a softer surface. Another reason is that you generally don’t move as quickly when you are running off-road and as such the load generated on impact is typically less. Off-road terrain is usually highly varied, which limits the same kind of impact for any given length of time- running up or down or across or navigating different terrain loads the body in different ways- never too much of the same thing at once. This can allow for greater mileage (or time spent- mileage may be lower due to lower speeds) without as high a risk to impact injuries.
Endurance sports are typically very linear. Running off-road breaks this up and challenges your body in different ways, which is beneficial for coordination and proprioception. Constant linear motion can weaken muscle groups that have to function out of this plane. Off-road running requires varying stride lengths, lateral movements, frequent changes in intensity and an overall challenge to your body’s stability. When you challenge yourself or stress yourself in a different way you encourage your body to adapt and make changes and ultimately improve.
Running off-road is great for your brain. There is often so much more for your brain to process when you are off-road and much like a muscle, your brain loves the stimulus. Every foot strike requires feedback to be processed by the brain and micro adjustments to be made. Every time you land off-road it’s something different for your brain to figure out. Trail running is highly engaging and will usually leave you wanting more!
There is a tendency for road runners and triathletes to shy away from the trails for fear of injury but the fall and winter months present an incredible opportunity to embrace this space. Get out there, you won’t regret it!