Here's what you need to know to stay injury-free when running on sand or tree-filled terrain.
Getting back to nature is great for runners. Taking to the trails can increase strength and stamina in ways a sidewalk or treadmill never could. Trail running may also reduce the risk of injury, as soft ground is more forgiving on joints. However, that only holds true if you can stay upright.
Learn how to reduce your risk of injury on the trails with these tips.
When a runner’s foot hits a firm surface, like a sidewalk, it will spring off quickly. That’s not the case with sandy trails, where the foot sinks into the soft terrain. This increased contact time with the ground, combined with the extra work to push off with each step, puts runners at risk for lower-leg injuries.
“Calf strains, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis are common risks when running on soft sand,” says Dr. Kevin Laudner of Illinois State University School of Kinesiology and Recreation. “This is especially true for heel strikers. When the heel digs further into the sand than the forefoot, it requires a more forceful push off the toes in an attempt to propel the body up out of the sand. This increased muscle activity ups the risk for overuse injuries.”
Tackle the terrain: Adjust your expectations. Not only will you be slower, but you’ll likely become fatigued earlier in your run—studies have shown running in sand takes almost twice as much energy as running on solid ground. Trying to maintain your sidewalk pace could be a fast track to injury.
Surface: Tree Roots
Running over trails with roots resembles more of a dance than a run! To navigate over technical terrain, many runners elect to perform quick side-to-side movements in an attempt to go around obstructions. Though this can reduce the likelihood of tripping, it puts additional stress on the lower leg.
“These small lateral movements may result in increased supination, one of the primary causes of ankle sprains,” explains Laudner. It’s not surprising that sprained ankles are the most common injury in trail runners.
Tackle the terrain: Instead of side-stepping the tree roots, go forward. On trail runs, emphasis should be placed on lifting the knees and picking up the feet to go over—not around— roots sticking out of the ground.