Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Jaunt on the Wild Side: Bushwhacking 101

Knee injuries, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and shin-splints are just a few of the maladies that a pavement-saturated running regime can inflict on the endurance athlete. So what's an athlete to do? There's a simple solution: take a jaunt on the wild side!

Reminiscing of cross country running years gone by I was reminded of all the joys we had as cross country boys in high school. Days when the coach would say, "today will be a two mile recovery run" translated in our minds meant, "TO THE WOODS!" Clad with little more than a pair of tiny running shorts, which would have made David Hasselhoff
blush, we made our way to the woods where our love of running was rekindled and the little boy within us was released like times in the sandbox. Even today, however, the woods have more to offer than the wooing of fond childhood memories.

Trail running is a tremendous discipline for a number of reasons; First and foremost trail running puts much less impact on ones joints. One of the primary reasons that triathletes are limited in training duration and intensity is due to injuries caused by the excessive strain running puts on the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. I don't need advanced degrees in civil engineering and physical therapy to describe why running on pavement is so detrimental to our body. Most trails are those that are shared with mountain bikers, hikers or Nordic walkers. In my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota we are fortunate to have Nordic ski trails that are either wood-chip or dirt covered. These trails, like mountain bike or hiking trails, are great for running because they are much less dense than pavement or asphalt.

A second of many great reasons to go trail running is the intensity that trails naturally integrate into the discipline. When ascending a hill, a triathlete focuses on the technique-smaller strides, higher cadence, smooth horizontal movements-which directly translates to faster race splits. Another amazing reason to take it off-road is simply the pure fun and exhilaration that accompanies blazing down an unbeaten trail. This to some may be a bit freaky, but as long as one keeps a watchful eye alert to wandering tree roots, it’s a blast. Those that are particularly prone to rolling ankles should be cautious on descents as roots and vines often jump out and ensnare the unwatchful harrier.

Whether frolicking ferociously through the furry of the forest for the first time, or rekindling a fond past-time, get out and tame the woods and discover a load of fun and excitement that an afternoon of bushwhacking can be.