Monday, September 07, 2015

Taking the road less travelled

On Sunday, after a very long time, I finally took the road less travelled by many runners.

Kidapawan City's back roads - mostly dirt roads winding through fruit farms - were a regular part of my runs before I moved to Cotabato City some 120 kilometers away. The city's asphalt and concrete roads have been my gym since then and running on dirt roads again had been on my mind for quite a while. Pounding the hard concrete surface especially every single running day puts a lot of stress on old legs, and running on dirt every once in a while provides a welcome break. The slightly softer surface of a dirt road spells less wear and tear on the muscles, bones, and joints.

Matt Fitzgerald of cites one more reason to go off-road and hit the dirt.

"Another advantage of running off-road that is less appreciated is that it forces the runner to vary his stride more. Trail running tends to be hillier, to require more directional changes and lateral movement, and to demand more variation in stride length and foot action to avoid obstacles and maintain traction. Some experts in running biomechanics believe that such variations accelerate the process by which the stride becomes more efficient as the brain learns novel ways to engage the muscles," writes Fitzgerald in a July 2014 article on why one should run off-road.

Liza Jhung of Runners' World, in "Why Trail Running Is Good for You," also says running off-road is "good for the brain."

"Trails provide an undeniable escape from what can be an otherwise hectic day. Eliminate the outside environment of cars and other city noises and import sounds of birds and trees rustling in the wind, and you’ve got an entirely different experience."

Gordy Megros, in another Runners' World article - "Less Stress More Bliss" - mentions a 1996 study as showing that "negative ions--invisible air molecules released by trees that are known to increase oxygen flow to the brain--alleviate seasonal depression as effectively as Prozac or Zoloft."

One thing I am sure though is the different kind of high I get on a run through dirt roads. It's not just because of the view, like seeing the sea on one side and having a tree-filled mountainside rising next to you on the other on a run I had while on Samal Island. It also comes from the cacophony of sounds that says you are amidst nature - the harmony of birdcalls mingling with insect sounds, the babbling of a distant mountain stream as it makes its way through rocks and boulders smoothened over the years by the rushing waters - and running with all that, occasionally hopping, skipping, and jumping over mud pools after a night of rain, makes you feel you are in total communion with Mother Earth, born to run amid God's wonderful creation.

My best-ever off-road run experience yet. Mt. Apo, April 2009