I’m not sure if I can call myself a ‘trail runner’. I always liked the idea that as soon as you run, you’re a runner, so according to that logic, I can. I run on trails during training and I’ve completed a trail race. I prefer being under shady trees to being beside houses and buildings, and the natural earth is easier on my Achilles’ tendons than pavement or concrete.
Through running on trails, I’ve changed as a runner, both mentally and physically.
- Pay attention to the environment. Both trail races and triathlons disallow headphones while running, so it pays to get used to running without music. Instead, you listen to the birds, the wind through the trees, and potential threats too (fitmomintraining has a great series on running safely here and here; being able to spot potential threats is part of it).
- Pay attention to the terrain. When you’re on an uneven trail, every step counts, so you end up taking in what your next 5-10 steps are going to be. I found this paying off on inclines and declines. Not the big steep monsters you fear (though trail running helps with these physically), but the subtle ones you tend not to notice. The inclines have you slowing down and wondering how this got so hard if you don’t notice them; when you do notice, you can accommodate or compensate for them. The declines give you a chance to get a free speed boost, if you know how to run downhill (which trail running gives you lots of practice for) and again, if you notice the decline.
- Be ‘present’/’in the moment’. Running is an opportunity for us to let our minds wander – every runner I know tends to use it as a form of meditation. Still, most new age/zen wisdom preaches the idea of being ‘present’. If we start thinking of all the things we have to get done next week (the future) or beat ourselves up in regret of things that have already happened, we miss the wonder of now.