Winter trail running is an excellent alternative to road running when it comes to the cold and icy conditions we face this time of year. There are several advantages to trails, and not all of them are immediately obvious. Included in this list is injury prevention, strength training, speed training, balance and coordination. Not only that, getting out on the trails offers a view of the general landscape that going around the roads does not.
We recently faced a cold spell this past weekend making travel precarious. I am lucky enough to have some fantastic forestry trails in my neck of the woods here in Fermanagh. My wife, Roisin, and I took our trusty hound, Chief, out to Crocknagrally Forest. If anyone has ever heard of the Coonian Ghost, this is adjacent to his property. The temperatures were as low as -6C but the running was terrific despite the bitter cold. We did the same six mile route on both Saturday and again on Sunday.
The surface is mostly large loose stone with some parts having smaller, packed stone. The loop is a rather challenging course with a few tight hills. The forest has a lovely river running through it as well as a good sized lake smack in the middle. Chief enjoys a good swim in the lake, but this weekend it was iced over, so no paddling for him. Here is why winter trail running is so high up on my list of training favourites this time of year.
When the tarmac or concrete roads and footpaths are icy during the winter months,. they are a slip hazard. I know many people who chanced running on the roads in icy conditions, only to come home injured. An overextended groin, pulled hamstring, sore back or even a good bump on the head are all on offer. Why chance it when the trails offer so many more benefits to us runners?
Additionally, whereas the roads and footpaths are hard surfaces with no give, trails offer an alternative. Generally softer underfoot, it is a good idea to put some miles on the trails even in warmer weather. Mixing up your training terrain is immeasurably better. The overuse injuries caused by putting too many miles on the harder surfaces can also be avoided by hitting the trails. Once a week, even every other week, winter trail running is beneficial.
Winter Trail Running: Strength & Speed Training
Running on trails requires more work. It is simply harder, and slower, than running on the roads. Especially when doing some winter trail running where the terrain can be a little trickier. You get strength and speed training in disguise. If your trails are a little hilly, all the better. One way or the other there is more strain on your running muscles and they will adapt. That’s where the magic happens and gains are made. You will feel sore after the first few trail runs, but they’ll get better. At least you know you are working hard.
Balance and Coordination
Once again, the terrain is your friend here. Trails offer a softer but more diverse surface. You may be running over dirt paths, loose stones, tree roots, mud, or something similar. With each stride the body needs to react to whatever the foot falls on. Often times, this requires minor adjustments that your body instinctively makes in order to avoid falling. This is the case whether going uphill, downhill or even staying on the flat.
Winter Trail Running: Additional Mental Health Benefits
For years a large section of the population have been extolling the virtues of being out in nature. Now, the science is backing up these health benefit claims. According to Mind.org.uk there are loads of benefits to your mental health alone. These benefits include:
- Improving your mood
- reduce feelings of stress and / or anger
- help take time out to feel more relaxed
- improve confidence and self-esteem
- connects you to your local community
- helps recover from mental fatigue
In conclusion, there’s only one thing to say, get out on those trails this winter and change up your training. Get all these benefits and you just might love it. If nothing else, you’ll have a new string to your training bow. With all the hard work, make sure you get your post run protein. Enjoy!