You’re a run­ner, so you know this: run­ning is good for you. What you’re less cer­tain of is whether you should hit the pave­ment or head to the trail.

I’ve found trail run­ning to be bet­ter for my body and mind. And since so much has been writ­ten about the ben­e­fits of road run­ning, I want­ed to share a few rea­sons why you should con­sid­er spend­ing less time on the pave­ment and more time ambling along tree-cov­ered paths.

Trail run­ning works a wider range of muscles
A trail is often defined as a “path beat­en” through “rough” ter­rain, which makes it innate­ly more bumpy than the per­fect­ly-flat road. It’s also not uncom­mon for a trail to be spot­ted with tree roots and rocks, so you’ve got to watch your step. More sig­nif­i­cant­ly, you’ve got to bal­ance your body as you run over and around these obsta­cles, caus­ing you to use those small­er, less­er-used mus­cles in your legs (as well as core and arms). While the ter­rain of any trail can dif­fer, most often the sur­face of the trail is sig­nif­i­cant­ly soft­er than con­crete or asphalt, mean­ing that your step depress­es a bit each time, requir­ing you to lift your leg and use more mus­cle each time you take a stride.

Your joints will take less of a hit on the trail
Run­ning on any sur­face aside from a paved trail gives relief from the hard, unfor­giv­ing pave­ment. A Runner’s World Mag­a­zine arti­cle pub­lished in the sum­mer of 2013 ref­er­ences Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports med­i­cine expert and ortho­pe­dic sur­geon, who says: “Trails are going to take away a lot of stress from the impact that you’d nor­mal­ly get run­ning on hard­er sur­faces,” says Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports med­i­cine expert and ortho­pe­dic sur­geon. “Some of the forces that would nor­mal­ly be trans­mit­ted from the pave­ment up to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips are dis­si­pat­ed when the foot hits the ground on the trails because there’s some give there.”

The fresh air is good for you and your lungs
One of the best rea­sons to run on the trail is to get some fresh air—literally. Road­run­ners in rur­al areas may have less traf­fic to grap­ple with than those who run on urban ter­ri­to­ry, but for both groups, get­ting out into the woods for a run is bet­ter for the lungs. A bit of research con­duct­ed by Active.com sum­ma­rized the health effects of run­ning in pol­lut­ed air this way: “A 2004 review of pol­lu­tion stud­ies world­wide con­duct­ed by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bris­bane, Aus­tralia, found that dur­ing exer­cise, low con­cen­tra­tions of pol­lu­tants caused lung dam­age sim­i­lar to that caused by high con­cen­tra­tions in peo­ple not work­ing out giv­en what can be in the air, “peo­ple who exer­cise out­doors should prob­a­bly be more wor­ried” than many are, said Dr. Mor­ton Lipp­mann, a pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal med­i­cine at the New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Medicine.”

You can’t zone out, but you can get in the zone
Trail run­ning requires intense focus. Even if you’ve hit the same six-mile path for years on end, it ’s going to require that you watch where you’re going care­ful­ly. This kind of focus is exhil­a­rat­ing and ener­giz­ing. What’s more, the trail doesn’t have all of the road­blocks, stop lights and cars to watch out for, mak­ing it eas­i­er to get in the zone and enjoy a more stream­lined run. You may even hit a new PR.

Being in nature is good for you
Trail run­ning takes us up the moun­tain, over the riv­er, and through the woods, and that often gives us a much more scenic view than we could ever hope for on an urban jaunt on the road. And if the scenery isn’t enough to sway you to the side of trail run­ners, per­haps the fact that nature is good for the emo­tion­al and men­tal well being of all humans will be. An arti­cle pub­lished by Har­vard Med­ical School states this: “Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Essex in Eng­land are advanc­ing the notion that exer­cis­ing in the pres­ence of nature has added ben­e­fit, par­tic­u­lar­ly for men­tal health. Their inves­ti­ga­tions into “green exer­cise,” as they are call­ing it, dove­tails with research show­ing ben­e­fits from liv­ing in prox­im­i­ty to green, open spaces. In 2010 the Eng­lish sci­en­tists report­ed results from a meta-analy­sis of their own stud­ies that showed just five min­utes of green exer­cise result­ed in improve­ments in self-esteem and mood.”

It’s qui­eter and calmer
Get­ting exer­cise is not only good for your heart, but it also pro­duces nat­ur­al endor­phins that leave you feel­ing hap­pi­er and calmer. But the calm of a good run can eas­i­ly be snuffed out by the stress you feel in dodg­ing cars or hear­ing the jar­ring sounds of con­struc­tion. Trail run­ning offers an unmatched reprieve for run­ners seek­ing asy­lum from those every­day sounds. Accord­ing to a Runner’s World arti­cle about the ther­a­peu­tic qual­i­ties of trail run­ning: “Trails just have a way of clos­ing off the rest of the world and all of the chaos,” says Dr. Jer­ry Lynch, a Boul­der, Col­orado-based psy­chol­o­gist and author. “Trail run­ning is qui­et and con­tem­pla­tive.” Lynch even pre­scribes trail run­ning to his patients who suf­fer from depres­sion. “I’ve had sev­er­al clients over the years who were depressed and tak­ing med­ica­tion and it was­n’t work­ing. I steered them toward trail run­ning and they became more at peace with them­selves and found joy.”

kindler1You’ve been at it for as long as you can remem­ber, and while you know your love remains con­stant, your rela­tion­ship with it at times has like­ly become a bit strained, lack­lus­ter, or neglect­ed. Every run­ner goes through ups and downs in their rela­tion­ship with the sport but there’s no need to suf­fer through a breakup. Here are five tips for a life­time of hap­pi­ness with the sport you love to hate.

1. Switch it Up
If you’ve been run­ning for a long time, chances are you’ve got a rou­tine route — maybe even two. While this can be good, it can also get bor­ing. Try some new ter­rain and tech­nique to re-ignite some pas­sion in your run­ning life. If you typ­i­cal­ly run on the road, try head­ing out for a trail run instead. If you usu­al­ly run a ten-minute-mile pace, try chang­ing that very pace or incor­po­rat­ing fartlek or inter­val work into your run. If you always start by bolt­ing out through the front door, con­sid­er rid­ing your bike to a new route or bring­ing your run­ning gear with you to work and head­ing out from the office dur­ing lunch or after you’ve fin­ished your day.

2. Make it a Pri­or­i­ty
If run­ning has tak­en the back burn­er to every oth­er activ­i­ty in your life, the hon­ey­moon peri­od is over and it may be time to re-pri­or­i­tize. Do this by writ­ing down the miles you’d like to run on the days you’d like to run them or enter them into your Google Cal­en­dar. If you’re a to-do-list lover, add run­ning to your list and be sure to check it off once you’re done; you’ll expe­ri­ence pos­i­tive rein­force­ment every time you check ‘done’ or cross it off altogether.

3. Get Social
As in life and in love, bal­anc­ing time alone and with friends is impor­tant. If you’ve spent too much time hit­ting the pave­ment alone, bring a friend along for the ride. Make a new “run­ning bud­dy,” some­one who you can count on to join you for miles on a reg­u­lar basis and who will be hap­py to talk to you while you’re out there. Also, con­sid­er join­ing a free run­ning group in your com­mu­ni­ty. Many local run­ning stores offer group run­ning nights or have the infor­ma­tion you need to join one elsewhere.

kindler24. Make a (Race) Date
Sign up for a run­ning event such as an upcom­ing 10k or half marathon. You don’t have to actu­al­ly plan to race the event, per se, but sim­ply know­ing you’ve got a date on which you have to join many fel­low run­ners at the start­ing line will remind you to train and get back in the groove. What’s more, run­ning events are much more ener­getic and excit­ing than any run you can do alone, which may help remind you why you fell in love with run­ning in the first place.

5. Be Nice
Remem­ber to lis­ten to your body and your mind. If you’re hurt­ing, don’t force your­self to run. It’s nat­ur­al to take a break every once in a while. With that, don’t be too hard on your­self if you’re injured or sim­ply too busy, burnt out or pre­oc­cu­pied in your life. The good news is: run­ning will always be there when you come back to it, so don’t stress over missed days. That said, get back into it when you’re ready and rekin­dle that relationship! 

Decid­ing to tran­si­tion away from pound­ing pave­ment and head­ing onto the trails can be a dif­fi­cult deci­sion, but most run­ners find it a reward­ing experience.

Prop­er recov­ery is impor­tant for begin­ners and advanced run­ners, as it helps keep our bod­ies and mus­cles stay ready for the next hard effort. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it can be dif­fi­cult to know what to do, espe­cial­ly if you’re rel­a­tive­ly new to dis­tance trail running.

the Trail RunHere are a hand­ful of great tips you should keep in mind after a hard work­out or race:

Stretch… or Yoga
After cross­ing the fin­ish line, walk for a cou­ple min­utes and light­ly stretch before sit­ting down to relax. Stretch your arms, legs, and back and slow­ly walk around the fin­ish line area. There should be a par­tic­u­lar focus on tired mus­cles and any­thing that both­ered you dur­ing the race.

Some events have post-race mas­sages (free or paid ser­vice), which is a great way to also break up lac­tic acid and relax.

aedThe First 15 Minutes
Imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing your race, there are a cou­ple of things you need to keep in mind: food, flu­ids, and warmth. Drink some water and a recov­ery drink (like the Accel­er­ade 4:1 Recov­ery Drink) and eat some food — a bagel and a lit­tle bit of fruit perhaps.

After your body warms down from your hard effort, it’s a great idea to change into dry clothes, so you are less like­ly to get sick.

Bath Time!
There are a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent tech­niques for recov­ery baths and it depends on your pain thresh­old and desired com­fort lev­el. An ice bath might be uncom­fort­able and dif­fi­cult to sit through for 10 min­utes, but it great­ly helps accel­er­ate recov­ery time for your sore legs.

If you aren’t will­ing to get into a tub full of cold water and ice cubes, then mix­ing Epsom salt into the bath can aid in post-race recovery.

Take a Nap
Not only does it feel good to take a nap after a hard phys­i­cal effort, but it’s good for your mus­cles to con­tin­ue the recov­ery process with­out inter­rup­tion. If you take a nap for 20–30 min­utes with­in 2–4 hours of eat­ing, your body is able to bet­ter absorb the flu­ids and nutri­ents consumed.

sarRecov­ery Work­out… but don’t Over Exert
The day after a hard trail effort, get out of bed – or off the couch – and go walk around the neigh­bor­hood or go for a light spin on the bike. This helps to loosen up your legs and stretch them out, though you want to be care­ful not to get car­ried away and put in a hard effort that will lead to addi­tion­al sore­ness or injury.

Bonus Tip
You can take some anti-inflam­ma­to­ry drugs after a hard phys­i­cal effort, but wait until you’ve eat­en and topped off your flu­id lev­els. Anti-inflam­ma­to­ry prod­ucts should aid in reduc­ing mus­cle inflam­ma­tion along with any type of sore­ness and pain but be sure not to over­do it. Of course — fol­low the rec­om­men­da­tions from your physician.

You will need to test dif­fer­ent recov­ery tech­niques and see which one works best for you, and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Remem­ber, it’s great to get out there and explore the trails, but you need to ensure you’re tak­ing the right steps to recov­er prop­er­ly so you can stay out there.