Monday, December 19, 2005

Running on Trails or Pavement?...It's No Contest!

I just realized that I haven't run on pavement since September! I try not to ever run on pavement, and I seem to have succeeded. I could run on pavement, but IT'S JUST SO DAMN BORING IT IS UNBELIEVABLE! You see, I've been spoiled by running on trails.

Why do I like to run on trails? Trails have reinvigorated my interest in running. I've run at least 36 road marathons since 1990, and in the last four miles or so of each one of them, (including Boston) I realized that I hated crowds and I hated flat, boring pavement. In fact, it was at Boston 2000 that I had my "moment of clarity" and realized how much I had started hating pavement and "big" races. That's the year that I started running many more unpaved ultra events.

What makes trails more interesting, besides not knowing what's around the next curve in the trail or seeing wildlife and flora and fauna? Running on rough, unpaved trails you have to pay attention to every foot strike, or you will find your face planting itself into some nasty rocks or mud. You have to be alert, think, and keep in touch with your surroundings and the changing conditions. You actually become part of nature itself. Running on pavement, you tend to turn-off or ignore physical world inputs, and concentrate on other things, such as traffic. To me, it is much more unnatural to run on paved surfaces.

Trails are much easier on your joints and connective tissue, (aside from the occasional twisted ankle). You have to use many more muscle groups than you do running on flat pavement or concrete. Let's face it, we weren't meant to run on flat, all of the time. When I trained solely on pavement, I had overuse injuries galore. They disappeared when I started running on trails. Two years ago I started doing some long pavement runs once again with buddies, and ended up getting plantar fasciitis again, in short order.

Here's another example, from real world experience: If I run a fairly-flat marathon on pavement, I will be very sore the next day. This comes from not varying the pace, and using the same muscle groups, over and over again for 3 or more hours. When I run on trails for the same distance (or even longer), I will be more tired but much less sore. Again, it's the overuse injury thing on pavement.

In this area, we have a few good parks with some decent technical trails. It took me a while to find many of the trails when I moved here several years ago. I didn't want others to take years and years to find them, so I set up a web site with trail information and have been slowly adding a pages of information per trail-area or park. I also set up a related group web site for scheduling group trail runs at least four times per week. Now I have some folks with the same interests to run with! Two times per week we run after dark. It seems counterintuitive, but the night trail runs are the most popular. I even get old pavement buddies to run an occasional trail run or two per month. We run in all conditions and temperatures.

I guess what I'm trying to say in synopsis: if you have chronic, nagging running injuries or are looking for something to give your running some added excitement, try trail running! There might be a local group near you, or you can do what I did - start your own!


jen said...

What a great description about trail running! Makes me want to try it too, after the Marathon.....if only to minimize these achy knees. :)

Dirt Runner said...

You would think living in a place called "The Woodlands" there would at least one trail. No, not even one. I do run the golf courses and the unpaved side of Kuykendahl road. Huntsville is 30-40 minutes away, so I do it on weekend.

Johnny Lyons said...

I love what you say about trail running. That's very cool that you have some good technical trails too with lots of vertical. I wonder if it's the pavement I'm doing that's causing most of the pain and not the technical trails. I just wish I had easier trail options out here. When I was in Flagstaff, AZ they had great dirt & gravel city trails that I could use the stroller on - that was perfect!

Ben, aka BadBen said...

When I train on pavement, I end up with chronic, nagging injuries. That's what I've found, anyway.

Keryn said...

So you're saying I should give trail runs a try? ;) Running in general hurts, so maybe trail running will help...

angie's pink fuzzy said...

Hear, hear!

I can run miles on trail, and be exhausted, but not be very sore. Hardly any limping the next day. And it is so interesting - not boring!

The last few weeks, I've been trying to get flatter miles in (race-specific training), and I have to use a paved river path nearby (plus it's easy - just jog from my front door!). It hurts so damn much!!!! And so boring. But, it does give me "easy" miles, so I continue to use it.

Now that I can travel longer distances, I'm very excited about finding a long, fun trail to traverse. I can't wait till I'm in enough shape to do 50 miles point-to-point - how awesome to travel 50 miles of scenic trails!!!