This week the New York Times published an article questioning the long-held belief by many runners that trails are easier on the joints and body than asphalt.
The gist of the article is that there is no scientific evidence that running on dirt and gravel trails prevents injury any better than harder surfaces like roads and sidewalks. The headline: “For runners, soft ground can be hard on the body.”
“It is not an easy question to answer,” one medical researcher said, while another doctor added that it would be smart to “get used to” running on roads.
Plus, you could sprain your ankle! Or shoot your eye out! Trail running is dangerous!
A minor dust-up among running geeks ensued.
Was this another one of those health myths busted? Was the Times needlessly stirring up controversy? Or is this yet another instance of conflicting conventional wisdom and shifting scientific opinion that you don’t know who or what to believe?
To this I say, REALLY New York Times? You’re picking on trail running?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the experts who would tell you to be wary of trails because you could get injured are the same people who would tell you not to have a beer after a run. Trails, like craft beer, provide the variety and reward that is necessary to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
I’m willing to defy the experts if it means not running on a treadmill and drinking lite beer all the time. I’m a rebel, I know.
All I know is I have a blast when I run on trails, regardless of its ability to prevent injury or not. Do you have to be careful running among dirt, tree roots, rocks, holes and constantly changing elevation? Without a doubt.
But for what it’s worth, I always feel stronger, fresher and less beat-up than when I run on hard, flat surfaces that stress the same muscles, joints and ligaments over and over.
Most importantly, trail running provides the most adventure per mile, in my opinion.
That’s a risk I’m willing to take.
UPDATE: Jim’s graph sums this up much better in far fewer words.