By Brittany Youngman

To each their own.

There seems to be a bit of segregation in the running community as runners find a niche that fits. Whether it’s based on distance or terrain, runners seem to stick to their guns when it comes to exploring outside the comfort zone. As a distinctly avid road runner, my experience with trails has been few and far between. However, with a major resource in my backyard it’s hard to deny my inner tree-hugger and give the trails a fair shot.

There are a great deal of benefits to supplementing trails with roads and vice versa. As runners, we are always looking for the next best thing to take care of our bodies. From foam-rolling, to stretching or cross-training, we seek to improve our overall fitness. I took it to the trails and went to my neighborhood playground, better known as the U.S. National Whitewater Center, for a taste of nature. In case you didn’t know, this playground offers 30 miles of trails to explore, and counting. The amazing staff that keeps this non-profit organization thriving, work hard and are dedicated to expansion and maintenance.

My buddies Brian and Adam from the USNWC provided me with great knowledge and insight as I experienced my most recent trail running journey. The fact is, road running is a singular repetitive movement: one foot in front of the other. Trails can add dynamic elements to your weekly training runs that ultimately result in progress on the road. Training on a variety of different surfaces has been known to improve overall performance (ie. sand) and trails are no exception.

From a physiological standpoint, trail running uses a variety of stabilizing muscles in the feet, legs and core to control balance and coordination. By strengthening these areas, road runners will build a more cohesive foundation to enhance their abilities on the road.

On a psychological level, a trail run is mentally challenging. Your mind is in constant communication with your body on where the next step will be, ducking for the branch (or cobweb) ahead, pumping your arms to get you up the next hill or even preparing your wrists to take a fall. If it weren’t for Brian and Adam reminding me to “look up” and “check out the view,” my neck would’ve been sore too! I must say that trail running can become emotionally frustrating for someone who runs the concrete jungle regularly. As each mile passed and our watches beeped in unison, the number did not reflect the effort I put forth. Dripping sweat, gasping for air and legs burning, I was running at my leisure pace and unsatisfied! I exerted all this effort, barely making it past 5 miles, where in Uptown Charlotte it would have been a breeze. Why? Because the trails will beat you up in a way the road just can’t, that’s why.

Finally, the trails also add a very special element to my regular road training regimen – nature. Getting back to your roots and engulfing yourself in a natural setting gives the mind, body and soul a way to recharge and break up the concrete routes you’re used to. Replacing buildings, crosswalks and sidewalks with trees, dirt and the therapeutic sound of birds chirping, the training schedule becomes a little more well-rounded.

There is something about hitting the trails that makes your inner road racer feel like a kid again. There is something about the U.S. National Whitewater Center that makes you feel included. Whether it’s a first time runner trying something new, or an ultramarathoner looking for a challenge. They offer multiple opportunities from 5K races up to 50 Miler Ultra Marathons and everything in between. Join them for a free group trail run every Thursday from May through September and try it out for yourself! I guarantee that your time and capabilities at the Greek Festival 5K (Charlotte) or Hit the Brixx 5K/10K (Charlotte) will pleasantly surprise you. Happy trails!

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Brittany Youngman is a running enthusiast who recently moved from Pittsburgh to Charlotte. She is the Community Engagement Director at Event Marketing Services and Thunder Road Marathon. Her goal is to make an impact on individuals in the community to lead healthier and more active lives. Contact Brittany at