On the Run: Benefits of Trail Running

July 28, 2015

By Clint Cherepa

Photo at right: Ben Luedke of Seattle runs a trail on Antelope Island in Utah. Photo courtesy of Ben Luedke


Trading the tarmac for the trail offers all the benefits of road running while providing a fresh outlook, physiological advantages and an additional fun factor. Ben Luedke, a long distance mountain runner and founder of Seattle Mountain Running Group, offers inspiration for trail running.

“I love to wake up very early and run up a mountain peak in time for the sunrise,” he says.

Trail Running Benefits

There is no need for runners to be hesitant about going off-road. Hitting the trails has helped many runners breathe new life into their running habit. Jessica Kelley, a Seattle trail runner and the owner of Evergreen Endurance Coaching, says trail running is a great cross-training workout.

“Trail running is a great way for road runners to mix up their training program,” she says. “If you run the same neighborhood route every day, switching to trails can add new life to a potentially stale running routine.”

Luedke found that trail running has its psychological benefits, too.

“I find the natural beauty of the mountains keeps me pleasantly distracted. Rather than trying to fit in time to hike during the weekend in addition to my running workout, I can cover more distance running in the mountains.”

Adds Seattle ultrarunner Wayne Allen, “You’re rewarded with amazing views of wildlife, it’s serene. Also, there is the accomplishment of bagging a summit in half the time a hiker would and enjoying the views for a lot longer.” Aesthetic benefits aside, there are also the positive physical perks. Luedke describes why he prefers trail running from road running.

“The trail is always varied and never the same, unlike asphalt. The body is forced to adapt to the contours of the trail, and more muscles are involved than in road running, where you’re repeating the same plane of motion continually.”

This can help with overall strength and proprioception; you will definitely notice a difference on your joints as you put miles on the trails.

Many trail runners are attracted by the laid back and happy attitude in the trail-running community.

“The trail running community is wonderful,” Luedke vouches. “There are always lots of smiling faces, good conversations and less focus on pace and time.”

Cross over to Trail Running

It doesn’t take much to get into trail running and the trail-running scene. If you already are hitting the roads regularly, making the cross-over is as simple as making your way to the trailhead.

“Slow down and take it easy,” says Allen. “Don’t be afraid to walk, but don’t be reduced to walking; you have to move with purpose.”

Proper nutrition is also important both prior to, and during, your trail run.

“Everyone is different so you have to test what you can stomach when you run,” adds Allen.

You may also want to visit a trail-running specialty store and talk with the staff about gear choices and shoe options.

“If you’re planning on heading further into the wilderness,” says Kelley, “you should consider purchasing a running pack or vest so that you can comfortably carry all of the food, water and other safety items you might need.”

If you’re unsure of what to carry, ask the staff at your local running store and also visit the Washington Trails Association (WTA) website to view its list of the basic 10 Essentials to have when hiking or running along trails. The site is also a great resource to search for new trails or check current trail conditions.

Luedke adds that it is beneficial to start with less distance and less elevation gain and slowly work your way up.

“Keep in mind that more distance isn’t necessarily better and do what you enjoy,” he says. “If your goal is to do a mountain ultra, start slow and avoid ramping up too quickly.”

So Many Trails, So Little Time

Kelley advises joining a trail-running group.

“Joining a group is a great way to learn about local trails and meet like-minded individuals,” suggests Kelley. She recommends the Seattle Mountain Running Group, and the High Heel Running Group in Seattle which is specifically aimed at introducing women totrail running.

Suggested Trail Systems

Tiger Mountain: Just outside of Issaquah, Washington, this trail system is easily accessible from Seattle. It has about 100 miles of trail, of which about five get crowded. When the snow melts, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness offers up some world-class, highly accessible trail running routes.

The Mountain Loop Highway: Only 28 miles northeast of Seattle is a huge variety of trails, ranging from the Big Four Ice Caves—a short family-friendly trail—to more challenging routes such as the steep scramble along exposed ridges, snow patches and boulder fields up Mount Pugh.

Pacific Crest Trail at Snoqualmie Pass, Melakwa Lake Loop and Mount Si: Snoqualmie Pass is 52 miles east of Seattle and offers a multitude of trail systems that string along trails, cliffs and thick forests providing panoramic views, shady rest points, a plethora of natural beauty and perhaps even a refreshing dip in an alpine lake.



Clint Cherepa is the Running Columnist for OutdoorsNW. He is currently in Nicaragua, where he is training for ultra-marathons and working on a new venture: www.strongerrunners.com