For most runners, training is more than just getting physically fit. They tie up their shoes, slip in their ear buds, start on their favorite course (or treadmill) and let their minds drift off to “Lala land.” It can be very meditative. But if you stick to the same course every day, there’s another part of running you may miss out on: learning to be present. This is where changing your running terrain comes in. Every terrain brings new surroundings and reasons to look at where you’re stepping for both safety and pleasure. Different surfaces can also affect which muscles are used, strengthening weaker parts and improve overall running performance. Here are some terrain options to help you discover mindfulness during running.
Running on Dirt
If you are new to trail running, smoother dirt trails are a good place to start. As you make the switch, notice how leg tenseness changes when running on a softer surface. The body will naturally increase muscle pre-activation to help equalize the impact. Initially, the switch to a softer surface may increase post-run muscle soreness. Noticing the subtle changes in the body from varying surfaces helps you to develop body awareness.
The Effects of Running on Sand
Enjoy a shore run at your favorite beach, taking in the fresh ocean air and the sounds of the crashing waves. Start your warm up on the soft sand from a walk to a jog. A study of human locomotion on sand found that slower paces on loose sand actually require more energy to stabilize the foot as sand gives way underneath it. Consider removing your shoes and decreasing your pace, taking time to steer clear of any beach hazards as you enjoy the sand between your toes. Make each step methodic and focus on your breathing. Gradually move toward the more compact sand near the water’s edge as you increase your speed. Notice the extra workload on your muscles as the sand absorbs energy more than harder surfaces.
Ankle Stability while Running on Gravel
Gravel is a common choice for developed trails because of its lower cost and natural aesthetic. For runners, gravel’s tendency to shift increases the risk of injury. Results from a study of running on different surfaces suggest the need to strengthen ankle stability before gravel trail running. Consider practicing yoga poses such as tree pose, toe stand, or warrior 3 multiple times weekly to increase strength and flexibility in the ankles. As with all trail running where unstable footing may be an issue, make the run less about speed and more about new paths for strengthening leg and foot muscles while enjoying nature.
Build Concentration by Running on Rocks
Experience the opposite of road running on a rocky trail. No longer can you drag tired feet on the smooth road. Picking up each foot is absolutely essential to minimizing stubbing a toe and tripping. Staying vertical means using your core to stabilize the upper body. Mental and physical precision can mean the difference between an injury or an epic run. You’ll find training on rocks is a great way to expand your running toward better physical precision and mental equanimity.
Stay safe and be present.