Trail Running – What is Your Why?

Trail Running – What is Your Why?

The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

Why do you trail run or WHY SHOULD you?

Trail running has become an incredibly popular sport over the last ten years with no sign of it slowing down. People are drawn to trail running for the chance to get outside, the adventure, the fitness, the fresh air and an opportunity to reconnect with nature.

So what is it about this sport that is drawing people in droves? If you are one of the many who has already discovered the wonders of trail running, what is your why? What is it that gets you out the door, exploring the earth’s trails? I wanted to take a closer look at some reasons so many of us are seeking this sport out as a staple in our fitness regimes.


Let’s start with all the things that come to mind when I think about trail running:

Exploration. Adventure. Nature. Outdoors. Hiking. Excitement. Grit. Determination. Accomplishment. Fitness. Agility. Speed. Athleticism. Balance. Mind and Body.

I can keep going…

Endurance. Adrenaline. My outdoor gym. Core and leg strength. Epic views. Mountains. Lakes. Trees and Streams. Stunning landscapes. Pure oxygen. Wildlife. Mother Nature. Wind and Rain.

Benefits of Trail Running

Let’s break down some benefits of trail running:

Physical Health:Trail Running Fitness

  • Improves cardiovascular health.
  • Uses a lot of muscle groups including the stabilising muscles in the core, the ankles and feet.
  • Provides better strength training than road running (especially for the core and legs).
  • Improves co-ordination and balance.
  • Burns more calories than road running due to the added challenge of uneven terrain and elevation.
  • Downhill running utilises eccentric loading of the muscles providing a great workout for the quadriceps in particular.
  • Improved running technique due to the uneven terrain encouraging shorter strides and landing on the forefoot rather than the heel.
  • Improved speed (running hills will increase your speed on the flat).
  • Less chance of repetition injury due to landing on predominantly softer ground (than asphalt or concrete).
  • Less chance of injury due to activation and stabilisation of the ankles and feet from repeated flexing and pushing on different angles.
  • Cleaner air – generally higher oxygen concentration and less pollution than in the streets.

Mental Health:

Mindfulness in Nature

Increased mindfulness – being in the present moment.

  • Meditation – many runner’s claim their running time is very meditative, which is enhanced in the natural environment.
  • “Green” exercise (being exposed to the outdoors, to nature) has been proven to improve and enhance our mental well-being.
  • Exercising in natural environments is associated with greater feelings of positivity, revitalisation and increased energy.
  • Known to decrease tension, anger and depression.
  • Enhanced creativity and imagination which explains why all of our great ideas and/or solutions pop up while out on a run/hike/walk in nature.
  • The feeling of awe – like when you turn a bend in the trail that opens up to a stunning mountain valley view. Awe is a powerful emotion that provides tremendous benefits to our psychological well-being.

We have become so disconnected with the constant distraction of the digital world we now live in. Dealing with these distractions (emails, messages, screen time, etc.) drains our attentional resources. This is something that our prefrontal cortex has to deal with which makes us ‘brain fatigued’ and foggy. This is what makes it so hard to focus and to be in the present moment.

Trail running gives us the chance to reconnect. Being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex to take a break, have a rest and ultimately enhance cognitive function. Basically, allowing that time to bring ourselves back to the present moment. You know that feeling when you’re out in nature and you take a deep, satisfying breath in and then exhale all of your worries? Reconnecting with nature, reconnecting with yourself.


Skill and Participation Level

  • Requires no particular skills to get started.
  • An inclusive sport whose participants can range vastly in their experience and ability.
  • For those wanting the challenge there are literally thousands of events held annually around the world of varying distances and degree of difficulty (from easy trails to highly technical ones).

Cost Stair workout

  • No gym membership required.
  • No gym equipment required.
  • Very little outlay to get started (yes you can go all out on very expensive gear like a GPS watch, but it’s not essential to get started).
  • Entry fees to trail running events on the whole, are considerably less than say, triathlon events.

Changing it Up

  • Chance to break the monotony of our normal routine.
  • Meets our inherent need for adventure and excitement.

Benefits For Our Kids

Let’s not forget the benefits of being outside for our kids. It is a sad reality that children today spend a huge amount of time indoors compared with the children of twenty or so years ago. Getting kids into an exciting outdoor sport like trail running is an excellent way to meet their needs.

Indoor childhood

Here are some scary and very serious consequences of an indoor childhood:

  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Osteoporosis
  • ADHD


Primal NeedsCave man

Once upon a time we relied on our running and exploring skills to survive. Hunting and gathering is our ancestry. When researching this element of our ‘why’ I kept coming across repeated similarities regarding humankinds most basic and primal needs for existence. These included:

  • The need for challenge and creativity. Humans crave new challenges and problems to solve.
  • Having a purpose and goals.
  • The mind-body connection.
  • Stimulation and creativity.
  • Seeking a connection with something greater than ourselves.

Anthony Robbins talks about the six core human needs, with variety being one of them – Variety: the need for uncertainty, diversity, challenge, change, surprise, adventure.

As I read through various articles, I couldn’t help but think that trail running was ticking off all of these elements.

Perhaps this is why we are so drawn to the experience?

Another recurring theme was the shared and innate desire of humans to want to explore.

To explore: “to conduct a systematic search or to travel over new territory for adventure or discovery”.


It seems to me that trail running is almost the perfect sport, meeting our physical, mental and most primal needs. I will finish with a few more words that continually popped up throughout my reading. I would love to know if any of these resonate with you or what your ‘why’ is for trail running. Please leave a comment below!

And like always,

Happy Trails 🙂

Peace. Pristine. Freedom. Beauty. Challenge. Alive. Health. Strong. Calm. Life.

9 thoughts on “Trail Running – What is Your Why?

  1. I’m a fan of trail cycling, but I’m getting more and more interested in changing my running environment (parks and neighborhoods are just too dull). I enjoy running because it gives me an unexplainable opportunity to sort my thoughts, and there are also physical benefits as well. 🙂 Thanks for sharing a great piece of content.

  2. Would you believe I just told my husband if he could possibly go trail running with me then I’d go cycling with him. I just started running again after years of Yoga and Pilates its really hard because its a concrete jungle out here.
    I really appreciate this read. Thanks

  3. Thank-you for your comment Roxs! If you can escape the ‘concrete jungle’ even just on weekends or organise a mini get-away you will so appreciate it! Think quality over quantity 🙂 Enjoy your return to running, all the yoga and Pilates will have prepped you well 🙂

  4. This is actually very motivating! Recently I’ve lost motivation to go running, as I usually would go road running in the evenings, but now it’s starting to get a bit too dark. Because of this I’m planning to go running on three mornings every week, but it’s never fun to go around the block and count my laps.

    I live in the suburbs so there isn’t so much country side around me, but I do happen to live close to a country park which provides potentially great locations.

    What motivated me about this post in particular is your mention of the improved physical and mental health aspects I come with trail running as opposed to running on the road, and also the primal needs. I’m very passionate about a natural lifestyle, and can’t agree more that primal needs are extremely important, and unfortunately often not met today. Going running in nature is a rewarding experience I have enjoyed a few times in the past, and you helped to remind me about the connection it gives with nature and with oneself.

    This would also be a better opportunity to transition more towards minimalist (flat) shoes for running.

    Thank you for this article, keep up the good work!

    1. Thank-you James ? and thank-you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful and in depth comment. I must say, I enjoyed writing this post as it really made me realise why I am personally so drawn to trail running, but also as to why so many of us are drawn towards nature. Perhaps more than ever due to so many pulling forces away from it.
      I hope you enjoy your time out there whenever you get the chance ?

  5. Excellent article Lisa…..I support all you’ve said about the benefits of trail running because I’ve experienced all these benefits firsthand, particularly hiking and backpacking all over these beautiful country of ours. And nature, it’s the perfect place for healing mind and body! Thanks for sharing.

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