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Nature’s Obstacle Course: What You Can Learn from Off-Road Running

Posted 9/28/2016 by UHBlog

Do you know about the preparation and gear needed for off-road and trail running? We can help.

Nature’s Obstacle Course: What You Can Learn from Off-Road Running

If you want to add something different to your running routine, try cross-country running. It can help you clear your head and challenge your body, says sports medicine specialist Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD.

“It’s a nice way to mix things up and can keep you from getting bored,” she says.

Wherever you live in Northeast Ohio, it’s likely there’s an accessible off-road trail nearby. However, make sure you’re prepared before taking on nature’s obstacle course, Dr. Weiss Kelly says.

“If you’ve had a recent injury, off-road running isn’t the best choice,” she says. “Also, with the differences in terrain – hills, rocks and tree roots – your balance will be challenged.”

There are a number of reasons why trail running is gaining popularity, including:

  • Takes the exercise out of running. “Many adults find it relaxing,” Dr. Weiss Kelly says. “Running on trails and out in the woods can be part of a mindfulness routine. You’re less likely to run with headphones on, while you’re listening to the sounds of nature.”
  • Varies your routine. Going off-road combines running and hiking. You’ll work on balance and challenge different muscles due to the ascents and descents of hills and diverse running conditions.
  • Tends to be more social. “Trail running can be a lot of fun,” she says. “People tend to run in groups, which makes it more social.”
  • Requires your full participation. Off-road running brings with it a whole host of challenges, so you have to be ready for what comes your way. For instance, if it’s icy or there are wet leaves, you’re likely to fall. Also, it’s not a sport for people who mind mud.
    “Pay attention while you’re running,” she says. “It’s easier to become injured off-road.”

If you’re new to trail running, Dr. Weiss Kelly offers these suggestions to get you started and minimize injuries:

  • Choose your trail. There are trails for every fitness level. For instance, a rails to trails path along an unused railroad line is often flat, well-maintained and well-drained. Hiking trails, on the other hand, usually have plenty of hills and obstacles.
  • Dress the part. Trail runners should wear shoes that provide lateral support and more stability, Dr. Weiss Kelly says. Be careful about the socks you wear, too. Wet cotton socks are going to cause your feet to blister. Some runners invest in a backpack to carry additional gear and water.
  • Stay hydrated. Speaking of water, the longer the distances you run, walk and/or hike, the more important it is for you to stay hydrated, Dr. Weiss Kelly says. If you’re off-road for an hour or more, carry plenty of water and a sports beverage that replenishes your electrolytes.
  • Plan for your recovery. Running up and down hills can be tough on your body. Consider adding cross-training activities, such as yoga or swimming, to allow your body to rest.

Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD is the division chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and the division chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Weiss Kelly or any other doctor online.

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