Trail running can be rough and the falls worse. A typical trail run can not only leave you exhausted and muddy, but could also win you a swollen, painful ankle. Fatigue is an open invitation for more falling. Once turns into twice and twice into countless trips, near misses, and straight up nose dives. Small, camoflauged, roots grow hands and grab your toe leaving you lying on your back gazing at the sky.
Don’t be embarrassed to fall. Any experienced trail runner knows that kissing the dirt happens.
The negatives outweigh the positives here. Sure a fall has inherient risks, but navigating the woods comes with benefit. In the concrete jungle every foot strike is predicatble. In the real jungle (ok, the woods) every foot placement is varied. Your foot is forced to adapt and stabilize. A root here, a rock there–everything the trail has to offer can help you run stronger and more balanced. With varied foot strikes comes activation of neglected muscles. Then there’s the obvious benefits of running on a softer surface, too.
Any experienced trail runner knows that kissing the dirt happens.
Still, you might be hesitant. Afterall, no one likes falling down–especially infront of a group. There’s the safe choice of taking it slow to prevent falling, but with that comes getting dropped off the back, fending for yourself in the woods. It might suprise you to hear that some runners are more likely to fall than others. Although improving foot strength and gaining trail experience will build you confidence, it may not be enough. Captain Obvious will say, “you need to pick up your feet,” but a rolled ankle rarely results from catching your toe box on that camouflaged root.
Quick rolling of the ankle often happens as a result of run form. It’s more than weak ankles (although that certainly matters), and more than clearing your toe during swing. Spraining an ankle in the woods is largely due to overstriding. Yep, I’m bringing that cursed word back from the 2012 dead! Just when you thought overstriding was beat to death, revived, and beat again.
Overstriding results in a contact point far in front of your center of mass (where your body weight falls). An outstretched leg neutralizes any chance for correction, your front foot is toast–left in no mans land. Rolling it has become the only option. The knee is straight (a.k.a. helpless) and your weight is so far behind your foot that all the foot can do is roll outwards. Your opposite leg (a.k.a. useless) just finished push off and can’t help. Afterall, it’s trailing behind your center of mass and needs to stretch way out front to get back to the ground.
A shorter, quicker, lighter stride is the way. Landing sooner equates to a more responsive ankle, knee, and hip. It allows corrections from above to save your ankle. The shorter stride also gives your trailing leg a chance to get to the ground sooner, off weighting the rolling ankle before it jumps off the deep end.
So the next time you’re barreling down a single track trail, estimating a safe foot placement between roots, holes, and sticks, remember to keep your feet light and your stride short. It gives you the best shot and not only staying on your feet, but also protecting your ankles.