Monday, January 12, 2015

Running on trails - brain training

Before I moved to Canberra I was a 'road runner' and lamented the fact that Canberra didn't have a road running club. The clubs around Canberra use a lot of trails and some of the bike paths to run their events. Trails were hard, there were 'hills' and 'uneven surfaces' to deal with. It took me a while to accept the trail running gig. When I did (back before my fatigue issues) I saw big improvements in my running and I started to relish doing my long runs on the local trails.

For some, trails pose a problem with falls. Cathy can tell you all about doing a 'CJ' and Ruth recently reported on her worries with running on trails. The thing is, as we get older one of the best things we can do for our brains is to challenge them to keep them young. This includes challenging our balance mechanisms. When older people fall they often make the mistake of thinking it is better to look down at their feet to keep steady on their feet. This actually makes it harder for the brain to get balance right and these people then fall more and get more and more timid with their mobility (see Chapter 24 in Dr Michael Merzenich's book - Soft-Wired). Sure, we don't want to fall and hurt ourselves, but the best thing we can do for our brain is to keep challenging it on awkward terrain (or even on cobblestones), by looking up and ahead rather than down at our feet all the time. Look ahead and plot your course, keep the brain active and engaged. Not only does running on trails make us stronger by working different muscles and by doing some some hills, it challenges the aging brain.

Little Black Mountain circuit - from work
I finally got out on a favourite running trail during the week. My fatigue and training intolerance has stopped me doing this one as it's a hardish climb at the start. As I've been feeling better the last few weeks I took advantage and headed out to Little Black Mountain circuit for a lunch time run. It was bliss to be out there again. Interestingly as I was heading back down the long climb, another runner I caught up with was complaining that the trail was too rough after all the storms we've been having. I reminded him that it's great training for our brains. Lovin' the trails :-).

8 comments:

  1. Good on you Janene. So fantastic that you are enjoying running again, especially those trails. I can see I will have to persevere with them. My brain needs all the help it can get!!

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    1. Thanks Ruth :-). The trails are being kind to me at present. Yes perseverance is good!

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  2. Obviously no need for me to comment on how good the trails are in Canberra. But I run them to chill out completely, not for brain stimulation. Well done to be back enjoying the great outdoors.

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    1. Thanks TF. Yes when the trails are a bit less rugged they are perfect for 'chillaxing' It's great to get so many benefits on the trails.

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  3. Good tip. Must say I really enjoyed running over at Melrose Pines the other day - enjoyed the walk breaks going up the hill :)

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    1. Thanks ET. It's good to change focus once in a while and trails are great for that. The hills make for a great 'tempo' run if you so choose.

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  4. I'm very jealous that you have some trails sufficiently close for a "door-to-trail" run!

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    1. I hear ya Cecilia. I wish I had one closer to my doorstep at home. It is very handy having some close to work for lunch time runs! :-)

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