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Some runners think trail shoes are only for those hearty adventurers who spend their days above the tree line, deep in national parks. I’d like to argue that every runner should have a pair and use them regularly — regardless of whether you’ll ever race on trails or take them on epic adventures. Here are 5 reasons why having a pair of trail shoes handy will make you a better runner:
1) Trail shoes make getting off the road easier.
Even if “off-road” only means running on the foot-worn track beside the paved road or concrete multi-use path, stepping off the smooth, firm surface lets you encounter varied underfoot angles and densities, making you land differently with each stride. This not only varies the forces your body encounters, reducing repetitive stress and corresponding injury risk, it also works different muscles with each stride, thus helping you to gain new strengths and further reduce your chances of injury.
2) Trail shoes help you get out on nasty winter days.
You’re more likely to bundle up and brave the cold and iffy footing when you got shoes that provide more traction on snow, slop and ice and often more protection from the cold and wet. And getting out more often, even for a short run, is a key to gaining the strength to run even more miles, do harder workouts, and race faster come spring.
3) Trail shoes vary, and improve, your stride mechanics.
Trail shoes tend to have a different ride than road shoes, thus you land and push off slightly differently. And experts agree that playing the field with shoes is one of the secrets to shoe happiness and a resilient, effective stride. When your body has to find new patterns, through shoe and surface variety, it also breaks out of ruts and discovers more efficient patterns, especially if you also are using the winter months to improve your balance, mobility and strength.
4) Trail shoes help you run by feel.
You don’t put on trail shoes to run your consistent, well-known route, the one where you know how long it is supposed to take and where all the mile-markers are. Even just stepping off the pavement slows you a bit, so you need to pay attention to your effort, not the pace on your GPS watch. When the shoes lure you deeper into the woods or higher into the hills, you encounter more variety of terrain, making you pay attention even more, and maybe start to play with your pace and effort in response to how you feel. And learning to pay attention and train by feel is a key to both effectively pushing the edge for top performance and to a lifetime of running success.
5) Trail shoes are fun.
If you haven’t worn trail shoes for a while, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Despite the protection they provide, today’s models are light, comfortable and fast. As I test recently-released models, more than a few ride so well I often find I’ll start to reach for them first, only rarely choosing a road shoe for variety — and I’ll end up seeking off-road routes so that I can fly over rough terrain in these fun models. And that fun leads to more runs, more variety, more intensity — and a more robust runner.