If pounding the pavements is getting tedious, the dirty little secret to keeping things fresh lies in going off-road. Trail running is gaining increasing popularity amongst runners who are looking for new experiences and some variety to spice up their usual routine.
Besides a change from the monotony of the road, there are multiple benefits that come with getting down and dirty.
Given the nature of most trails, the absence of concrete paths actually reduces the impact to joints and muscles when running. Concrete is a hard surface, and the repeated stress from impact puts unnecessary pressure on our muscular and skeletal structure. The lack of elevation in Singapore allows for even less variation in our running routes, often leading to running-related repeated stress injuries. The softer terrain on trails lessens the impact from running, and also decreases the risk of repeated stress injuries.
The uneven landscape also provides additional strength training as your body adapts to keeping upright and stable. Avoiding tree roots, rocks, streams and other off-road obstacles are all part of the fun. Your core muscles and under-utilised muscles in your feet and legs are called into play when there’s some fancy footwork required. Instead of using the same muscles in a repetitive action as you would on the road, trail running makes you vary your stride length to accommodate the terrain. This often means there’s little repetition with each run, even if you run the same trail each time. Every step is different.
Trail running is a multi-sensory experience, and you’d be surprised how much more you enjoy your run. There’s a bit more effort required to haul your ass up to the top of each climb, but cruising down the other side is the perfect recovery. You don’t inhale exhaust fumes and other pollution hazards from road running, and it’s a chance to enjoy your surroundings. There’s all sorts of sights, sounds, and wildlife, so ditch the headphones, watch where you’re putting your feet, and don’t be afraid to say hello.
Given that trail running is a different beast to road running, it stands to reason that you should train differently as well. Start slowly, your muscles will need time to get used to the new kinetics. Vary your gait to accommodate the terrain. You’ll have to compensate for inclines by shortening your stride; this applies to going up and down.
Trail running comes with its own hazards, and the main danger would be injury from falling due to the uneven terrain. You might need to invest in a good pair of trail shoes, especially if you run in all weathers. The grip offered is superior to road shoes and they will provide better traction in slippery conditions. If you’re running alone, it would be best to know where the ranger stations and convenience facilities are. If possible, carry your phone and some water as the facilities available on a trail are few and far between.
If you’re planning to be out for a while, it’s a good idea to carry a small hydration pack or waist pack with some food (gels, etc.), water and electrolytes. A 10-kilometre trail run usually takes longer than the same distance on road, and it’s important to stay hydrated.
In a concrete jungle like Singapore, the main trail is found at Macritchie Reservoir and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The reservoir has a circular loop that is 11 kilometres long, including some shorter variations. There’s also a route that leads to Rifle Range Road, and links up with Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Just be sure to exercise caution when running on the mountain bike trails in case cyclists come bombing along. (Another good reason not to run with music.)