photo: 10K trail running race on the 1996 Olympic MTB course, sponsored by Dirty Spokes
A lot of people ask me why I run so much – usually 3-4 days a week – and I always tell them it’s to make me a better mountain biker. The truth is my schedule doesn’t always allow me to get the time I need in the saddle and running is a pretty good way to build and maintain endurance for mountain biking.
Over the past few years I’ve been getting into trail running and I gotta say it’s about as close as you can get to mountain biking without the wheels. At a recent MTB trail work day one of the volunteer leaders mentioned that trail runners and mountain bikers typically travel trails at the same speed (on average) which I never thought about before. Of course mountain bikers do the passing on the descents while the trail runners can often pass mountain bikers going up 🙂
When I lived in North Carolina there were a ton of trails near my house but very few of them allowed mountain bikes. Instead of hiking to explore the local trails (slow and boring) I ran ’em. I even found that after trail running a local MTB trail I knew the trail much better than if I had only biked there. That knowledge came in handy the next time I was out on my bike as I was bombing through familiar turns and bouncing over rocks and roots that I knew like the back of my hand. Trail running is also a good MTB substitute on days when the trails are too wet for riding.
Many of the mountain bikers I know got into the sport because of bone or joint problems that prevented them from other forms of exercise like running. Mountain biking is certainly low impact but it turns out trail running is pretty low impact as well. By avoiding the pavement and sticking to soft dirt, trail runners minimize much of the pounding associated with road running. If you’ve had to stop running due to joint issues you may want to try a short jog at the local MTB trail to see if that works for you.
For those who haven’t tried trail running before, here’s a good chance to give it a go: August 22 is National Trail Running Day. Hit up trailrunningday.org to find an event near you or head over to SeriousRunning.com (one of our sister sites) to find and review running trails. While trail running will never compare to mountain biking for me, it’s definitely a good way to stay in shape and a fun way to explore trails closed to bikes.