As a running podiatrist in Houston, TX, I've spent years talking about how surface matters. What I mean is, I always debate the safest training surface for runners.
Often, that means talking about running on a treadmill or running outside. But, even in the great outdoors, you face very different training surfaces. Run on the beach? You'll face different challenges compared to running on concrete. And the same is true for Houston trail running.
Now, for years, people thought trail running was better than training on paved roads. After all, a soft surface should add less impact to your heel strike. (Wherever that lands, because we've learned it doesn't affect your running injury risk.)
Recently, we've seen studies suggesting that's not the case. In fact, Houston trail running gives your body some unique challenges. So, today, I'll review a study helping highlight the dangers of trail running. Then, I'll tell you how to avoid them and stay safe wherever you run.
Houston Trail Running: 2 Dangers to Consider
A British Journal of Sports Medicine study highlights risks for running injury that matter wherever you train. These include your running experience, or a high score on the researchers' sports accident survey.
They also looked at outside factors that add to your injury risk. These include skipping your warm up or training without a plan. Also upping your risk? Training twice a day and engaging in physical labor for work. Or even training on asphalt.
Now, here's the interesting part. This is a study about the risks of running on trails. But they say running on asphalt raises your chances of getting hurt on a jog. So, what gives?
Here's the story. Because of the rough terrain, and the way you train on trails, this type of runnig creates new risks. Even worse? The injuries you get while running on trails could be more severe than your run-of-the-mill overuse injuries.
Why is that the case? Think of this scenario. You're deep into your trail run and you trip on a branch. Right away, you know that you've sprained your ankle. Maybe you even twisted it too far, and now that ankle's broken.
But there's a problem. You're deep into the trail path. No car is getting in to pick you up. Heck, you may not even have cell service to call for help. So you're going to have to limp out on that injured foot or ankle. And that could spell big trouble for your recovery.
Of course, that's just my nightmare scenario. But it's not so far off from the research. And that's why I want you to see the study data, to understand for yourself what could go wrong when you train off the beaten path.
Researchers reviewed 2755 studies conducted between 2011-2021. Each of them defined trail running using the International Trail Running Association's criteria. And they realized that people get hurt while running the trails for a bunch of reasons.
Some we've identified already: trail runners are often more experienced. For that reason, they may feel confident shrugging off warmups, so they get hurt more often. But some of the trail risks they identified are more in line with my logic. They note that most trail runners hurt their lower limbs. And they say that blisters were a major issue on these natural paths.
Preventing Running Injury
Every time there's a new running injury study, my patients want to talk about the results. If they hear that heel strike affects risk, they're asking for gait analyis. When I reported that posture impacts your injury risk, I got a bunch of you asking about the best running position. And all of that is wonderful. But it's sort of missing the point.
What do I mean? There are always going to be new studies about running injuries. In fact, you could spend your whole life following the science, tweaking your training after every new report. But you'd still stand a good chance of getting hurt.
Why? Here's the real truth. Every runner is dealing with a different body. So they have their own unique challenges and injury risks. Now, knowing your own risk factors can help you stay safe. But following the golden rule of running will be more likley to keeping you training comfortably.
Comfort, Cross Training and Rest Days
The title says it all: these three factors are most likely to keep you running without pain. Now let's get a bit more detail about each one.
When I use this word, I'm talking about how your sneakers feel. Instead of buying the most expensive running shoe, find one that feels good the first time you wear it. Then, if your biomechanics mean you need more support, we can fit you with an orthotic. And you can move it from shoe to shoe, instead of spending a fortune on sneaker tech that won't keep you safe.
If you want to avoid injury, listen to your running podiatrist: you have to embrace cross-training. That could mean hitting the elliptical. It should mean weight training to strengthen your supporting muscles. And I also hope it means trying yoga or other stretch-based workouts, to help with post-run recoveries.
This might actually be my most important point. I don't want you to run your hardest every day. Instead, take a full day off of running. (You can cross train or just relax.) This gives your muscles the chance to repair themselves after a hard training session. So it goes a long way to preventing overuse injuries.
Running Podiatrist in Houston TX
Well, there you have it: Houston trail running won't keep you from getting hurt. But neither will treadmill training, or $300 sneakers. Instead, you've got to listen to your body and use common sense. And stop running and make an immediate appointment as soon as your runs hurt. Together, we'll come up with a safer training plan. And we'll address your existing imbalances and injury risks so you won't get hurt again, no matter where you train.