Road races and training on them can be relentless on both your mind and body. It is amazing to see how far you can push your body and how fast you can become, however, months of training can take its toll.
Recently at the back end of a training cycle and the beginning of preparations for another, I suffered a freak injury. A varicose vein in my leg burst when I knocked it walking into my children’s bedroom in the pitch black of night to answer the call of “Dad, I need a wee !”. Waking up the next morning to a hemotoma the size of a tennis ball on my leg and loss of feeling in my toes.
After a visit to hospital, my GP and then back to hospital , I was cleared of any blood clots and was assured rest and compression would heal it in time. However, I was told not to run for two weeks and then build gradually from walking – all runners will know this is not as easy as it sounds.
Running is my escape. It is my way to process my life, let go of the nonsense and more importantly, keep my depression from the door. So two weeks of rest set off the unraveling of my mental health. I didn’t see it coming and although I started to run, it was ‘conservative’ and couldn’t ‘train’ as I normally enjoy: no hill sessions, no speed work or even racing. Running is my ‘medication’ and through the injury I wasn’t getting my full dosage.
After reading an article online about trail running, I remembered how much I enjoyed the few, short trails runs I have done. Maybe this could be the way to go. In fact the trail shoes I had bought 6 months ago had probably been only worn twice. It was time to dust them off.
The local Stoke running community has a wonderful ‘Trail Tuesday’ community and although I haven’t joined them to run, I follow them with interest and picked up a few great looking locations. So, as the ‘mojo’ was beginning to return, I got in the car and ventured out of my comfort zone.
Now after four trail runs, I have found the love for the off road. In a busy, working parent, family life, I have promised myself at least one trail run a week. The benefits of this will help my mental health through the cathartic benefits of being in open countryside but also help my running as well.
Mentally, the open countryside gave my head ‘space’ , it was peaceful and beautiful. Each step required thought and consideration. The path (or lack of it) made you process your running form. You had to alter your stride, jump, duck and dive around objects. My brain began to think quicker and more fluidly and almost started thinking one step ahead. But occasionally it went wrong. I ended up in ankle deep mud or on my backside more than once. The experience was rejuvenating. It wasn’t all about how fast I’d cover the distance. It was the event and challenge of covering the distance.
On trail, you can’t be precious over pace. The hills can be massive, the terrain can be unfriendly and uneven and the route can be … well , made up. Also you are working different muscle sets that road running just doesn’t use. Lateral motion of running on trails as you duck and dive around the terrain and as your ankles and hips roll to compensate the tree roots, the mud or the brambles, will work ligaments and tendons that are only used to moving forwards and back on the roads. All this plus the increased elevation will be just as good as a gym ‘leg’ workout.
Personally, trail running is beginning a new chapter of my running story. It will play out alongside my road running and fingers crossed will all benefit the overall goal- getting my mojo back.