Not all types of running are created equal. Running on pavement is much different than running on a trail, and each surface offers its own unique set of obstacles and quirks.
Trail running, for example, challenges the muscles of your lower legs much more than if you’re running on a road. The uneven surface that often comes with running on a trail requires your muscles and joints to adjust and (sometimes) strain to keep you balanced and upright.
If you’re thinking about making the switch from road running to trail running, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind to try to avoid sustaining an injury in your new sport:
Wear proper footwear
Trail running shoes offer more traction and support than road running shoes. This extra support will make it less likely that you slip or turn your ankle (ankle sprains are the most common trail running injury) while navigating uneven surfaces.
And while trail running with road shoes is obviously not always going to result in injury, that extra traction and support becomes more and more important as the trails you’re running get more and more technical. If you’re venturing out onto a trail with a lot of large rocks or divots in the path, it’s a good idea to invest in some trail shoes for the health of your ankles.
Keep your eyes on the trail
Wearing footwear with proper support will certainly help you avoid injury, but it’s also important to keep your eyes open for rocks, roots, or any other obstacle on the trail in front of you. Unlike in road running, the terrain may vary greatly over the course of your trail run. Concentrating on taking safe steps will go a long way in keeping you healthy.
As mentioned above, trail running challenges muscles and joints in a way that road running does not. So if you’re venturing out onto the trails for the first time, it’s important to add uphill and downhill components gradually so that your legs can get used to the new ways that you’re using them.
Starting with less technical trails—like ones comprised mostly of sand or gravel—is also a good idea, as it’s another great way to allow your body to adjust to the obstacles that you may encounter while running trails.
Just like with any other sport, it’s important to listen to your body. If you feel like your legs are straining to carry you up a hill or over a particularly rough part of the trail, don’t be afraid to walk that portion. Even professional trail runners often take the time to hike particularly steep or rocky terrain to avoid injury.