Triathlon is a great sport, and I am intrigued by it nearly year round. And while I wish my life provided me with the time to train the way I’d love to, I know that the chances I do have to workout, which is roughly ten hours a week, are periods that I cherish.
Yet, I have a semi-nasty habit: I let myself get too patterned, and I have to repeatedly remind myself to mix it up a bit. If not, I find myself running the same roads, biking the same routes, and swimming similar workouts. For me, I find it rather easy to vary a cycling day and to redesign a pool session.
Where I have always had trouble is in making the running a bit more exciting.
I know, most people who have deep running backgrounds probably scoff at this. But, being an athlete, someone who never excelled at any of the three triathlon disciplines and instead found great success in baseball and soccer, I simply hit the road to pile up the miles or the track to get in the speed.
So, it’s not surprising to me that I get occasionally bored with my run training. The same hills, the same curves, and same scenery. All nice but just plain ordinary and uninspiring.
That said, I searched for something a little different. Not so much that it would impede my triathlon focus, but varied enough to keep my interest and spark my motivation.
After listening to some runner friends talk about a local lake that was surrounded by trails that stretched high into the woods, I knew that was my opportunity.
And what I discovered was that the experience surpassed my initial hopes, and the workout I got made my weekly road runs seem mundane to say the least. Therefore, if you are looking for a way to expand your training, think about the following reasons to make trail running a part of your triathlon plan.
Workout variety: Seems rather obvious based on the commentary above, but hitting the trails gives you a much needed break from those long, flat road runs. The changing terrain and the unexpected undulations make it both mentally and physically stimulating. You will have considerable variations in your heart rate, and you’ll challenge yourself repeatedly.
Change in the surface: Your legs can take a beating constantly pounding on the asphalt or track. The more forgiving trails, from loose dirt to uncut grass, give you a softer landing, which takes stress off the ankles, shins, knees, and hips. Once your legs get accustomed to the all the new ways your muscles will work on the trails, you’ll find that these surfaces make recovering for future workouts easier.
Total body training: Running is a complete body workout wherever you do it; however, on the trails you have to be far more agile. The lateral movement, used in navigating constant curves, inclines, declines, and obstacles, engages the core much more so than road running. As a result, your entire body gets a rigorous workout.
Increased mental focus: A part of general running I actually enjoy is when I can zone out a bit while moving along, thinking about different things. But, when out on a trail, the idea of “spacing out” simply cannot exist; in fact, if you do, you may be headed for a tumble. Instead, this type of training requires your focus, which, in the end, teaches you to remain mentally sharp and aware.
Uninterrupted running: Traffic and stop lights, and everything else road related, can seriously disrupt the flow of any long run. Fortunately, none of these exist out in nature. A trail gives you access to a run that only has you to stop it.
Self-reflection: Sounds odd, but without the need to worry about a car flying up on your shoulder, you can actually think about what you are doing. This freedom lets you feel your breath, understand what your body is doing, and learn about how best you run.
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