Trail Running, Go Get Muddy!

person standing on brown surface

Why Get Trail Running?

Trail running, like off road driving, presents similar challenges. Road running, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, won’t prepare your body or mind for what awaits after you step off those smooth, flat surfaces. Read on for the top six challenges experienced road runners face when they venture away from the pavement. You’ll also learn how to develop the skills needed to master these challenges, and how these skills will benefit you, not only trail running, but on any surface you choose to run.

Rehab And Prehab In Disguise

Don’t want to convert? Scared trail running will sabotage your road or race prowess? Have no fear, the two disciplines are complementary. Elite runners see trail running as beneficial to all running. You can actually used the trails to your advantage while recovering from an injury. The slower paces don’t aggravate injury, but you are able to maintain fitness because of the effort level trail running requires. You can find that the way to get the most out of training is to do focused workouts on the road or track and recovery on the trails. This combination will allow you to stay healthy and focused. Doing road and track workouts allows you to get the maximum benefit from each quality session, while the trail excursions can let your body and mind recover as you enjoy the beauty of local forests.

The drills and exercises recommended to improve your skills on the trails mirror those you’d do as part of a rehabilitation program for some of the most common running injuries and are advised for those who want to avoid such injuries. Facing the challenges of off road running provides a more immediate and tangible motivation than preventing a potential injury and is a whole lot more fun than doing drills and exercises after an injury has occurred. Regardless of the motivation, developing these skills will make you stronger, faster and healthier wherever you run.


Road, track, and even cross country runners rarely face the long, steep and technically challenging descents frequently found in trail running. Often these new-to-trail runners hit the brakes and gingerly make their way down, or they may surge and reach high speeds, but then find themselves stumbling out of control and suffering stride-altering soreness later in the race. Runners who struggle with this specific skill must learn to negotiate obstacles quickly while maintaining good balance with the least amount of effort.


Road runners are good at running in one direction: straight ahead. Negotiating sharp turns and dodging rocks and vegetation off-road takes lateral movement. This was the toughest thing for me when I first started spending a lot of time on the trails. My stabilizer muscles really took a toll from all the side-to-side movement. In order to counteract all the extra muscle-fatiguing movement, you can hit the gym to challenge core, hamstrings, glutes and quads to increase overall stability.


“It’s an energy allowance game,” says Trent Briney, a 2:12 marathoner who was an alternate for the 2004 Olympic marathon team and recently placed third on the jumbled slick-rock at Moab’s Red Hot 33K. “You need to know how to judge your output so you still have the power to jump up and over foot-and-a-half-tall steps or rocks when you encounter them. That’s exhausting if you’re not used to it.”


The best road racers are able to dial in pace, or rhythm, for long periods of time so they feel comfortable and controlled on race day. Rhythm, however, is virtually impossible to come by while running on the trails. Running the trails taxes multiple systems – mover and stabilizer muscles, motor nerves and the brain – and this fatigue may play a greater role in one’s ability to maintain or re-establish pace.

Trail running

Trail running


We’ve all seen the post-race photos of the mud-encrusted trail runner. Though it’s considered a badge of honor in the off-road world, it’s often a game-changer on race day. Unpleasant trail conditions, like mud, snow, ice and sand, slow runners down and force muscles and limbs to withstand unnatural angles and loads.

Trail running


Trail runs deplete glycogen reserves more quickly than running the same distance on the roads.

Road running feels different. You think that if you slow down to an 9/10/12-minute mile pace that you can run forever. It takes significant training time for your body to adapt and use fuel differently. The extra demands of the terrain on the body mean additional fueling considerations. Uphill running and all of the other dancing you do on the trails require more calories. New-to-trail road runners don’t understand that you use way more energy on shorter runs due to the terrain and changing of gears.

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