I Started Trail Running At 70 — Aside From Being Bitten By Dogs I Love It

Trail running is stimulating and keeps your brain on high alert

Walter Adamson
Jan 22, 2020 · 7 min read
Local Trail | Image Credit: The Author

I’ve had a few falls, and every corner can be perilous, but trail running has added a new dimension to my fitness. If you haven’t considered trail running, you might like to try.

It adds balance and coordination skills that you won’t get from road or track running. If you are older like me — 72 — this will be an advantage, provided of course that you do it safely.

Here’s what I have learnt about trail running since I started at Xmas 2017 — just over two years ago.

Tree roots are the number one enemy!
Good views, bends and turns, and puddles are all part of the run.
Blood pooled in my foot after rolling my ankle.
Left: A dog launched between my legs and I hit the dirt hard. Right: 4:56/km is a good pace on this type of trail.
Trail Running — Clifftop Trail — Sandringham to Black Rock via Half Moon Bay, Victoria, Australia

I hated running

The be honest, I hated running. I only started because I wanted more variety when my local gym went on a limited timetable over Xmas (2017).

I had my doubts about running, as the vast majority of the advice is not to do it, especially at my age and not having been a runner before.

While I always listen to what people say, I’m not one for accepting the usual commentary at face value. Training for 20 years has tuned my brain closely to my body, and I have well-balanced strength across my joints.

If you are less confident, then it’s prudent to get advice. The loads on your joints are high as you rush around bends and jump dogs and side-step the strollers.

It took me 6 months to start enjoying

After 6 months, I started to enjoy my runs, as I became more familiar with the trail, and the loads on my body. I established a pattern of running 3km twice a week.

I wondered if I would ever be able to run 5km.

Gradually I extended my run half a kilometre at a time, and now I finish 5km twice a week. Then, on my Sunday morning run, I added in hill sprints and stair sprints. I added in these intervals to build my stamina.

On Sunday’s I do between 12 and 18 stair sprints and tough hill sprints. The longest stair climb has 100 steps and takes about 20 seconds sprinting up 2 steps at a time. The longest ramp also takes about 20 seconds and has a steep finish.

Doing the sprints has improved my stamina as well as endurance. I’m able to run faster for longer and run more bursts more often.

Look out for the dogs!

Running faster isn’t always best on such a public trail.

I burst around a corner one morning and a dog lept out from between its owner's feet and tangled itself around my ankles. I hit the ground like a rock. My left knee was scraped and bleeding but luckily no permanent damage!

You have to be adept at side-stepping oncoming traffic as often people aren’t paying attention or they hesitate and don’t move to their side of the track. Once I hit another runner head-on as he came around a blind corner on the wrong side.

Tree roots demand constant attention

Rain digs new channels across the track and adds to the ever-present danger of rolled ankles. And the tree roots require 100% concentration.

My worst injury was 10 weeks ago when I ran on to a small root and rolled my left ankle. I sprawled across the track and could not get up for 10 minutes because of the pain. It took me 6 weeks to be able to run again. At least I could stand after a week so I went to the gym and did what I could to keep moving.

The mental workout is part of the fun

How you view this — is it too dangerous or not — might depend on your appetite for pushing your brain as well as your body. If you like visual stimulation then trails are fantastic, and they change with the seasons and the weather.

But it’s not just extra physical exertion, where every step is slightly different, but also mentally exertion as well to remain totally alert and planning ahead. You’re working hard mentally to tune your body position, foot placement and lateral movements to get you through every step safely.

0.99 seconds to change direction around the oncoming

On my trail, many corners are tight and I have to lean in to maintain balance while remaining ready to sidestep out to avoid any oncoming traffic.

I’d say that you always have to be totally “thinking three steps ahead” and coordinated mentally and physically in anticipation of a rapid transition.

Runtastic tells me that my average step rate is 181 steps/minute, with a step length of 1.1m. In that case, “thinking three steps ahead” is 3.3m (10 ft) and 0.99 seconds ((60/181) * 3).

0.99 seconds is plenty of time for a reaction but only if you are balanced, paying attention, and fully aware of your potential for safe lateral movement and foot placement. That’s why I enjoy the challenge — it keeps your brain healthy as well as your body.

With trail running you are engaging your kinetic chain (knees, upper legs and hips) more then road running and you are concurrently engaging the associated muscles much more as well. Think of your hip flexors and your gluteus medius which have to power your agility.

Taking shorter strides can make you feel more comfortable

If you’re starting out, taking shorter strides can help you manage the terrain more comfortably, as you will feel better balanced and more in control.

Last weekend I ran 8.8km and it was great to open up Runtastic and see that I maintained an average pace of 4:56 min/km over the distance.

If you hate running, or you only run on the road, I’d encourage you to try a trail run and see how you like it.

For me, it has come as a surprise that I enjoy it so much. Hopefully, you will also. I found Clair Kowalchik’s book “Running for Women” to have great advice, see my post below.

Take care, and if you like it go buy a good pair of trail running shoes, they will save you unnecessary strain. (I run in Saucony and they are fantastic.)

Good luck.

If you liked this post you may also find these interesting: How to keep your weight off with daily walks — 5 fun level-ups that everyone can do and Building a stronger body in 5 minutes and Can you run 3km every day for 3 weeks? — here’s what happened

I’m Walter Adamson. I write about life, health, exercise, life and cognitive fitness to help men and women over 50 live longer better.

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Optimistically curious, 70+ trail runner; 2X cancer; diabetic; Click “FOLLOW” for living longer better tips | Weekly Newsletter 👉 wja.is/newsletter

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Helping you make the choices to live longer better — tips, plans, action and motivation.