Trail Running

Now that the worst of winter is over, are you looking forward to running outside again? Maybe you would like to try something different this year. If so, go off road and try trail running.

To get the lowdown on trail running in the Twin Cities, I talked to Maria Barton, PT. She is a Physical Therapist at Sister Kenny Sports and Physical Therapy and a seasoned ultra-marathoner and trail runner. She began trail running while participating in high school and college cross country as part of her overall training. Maria says “I was getting burned out with trying to run faster and dealing with numerous injuries running on the roads, so I decided to switch to mostly trails for a change of pace. I shifted to the point where I was doing a lot more training on trails and started to do mostly trail races instead of road races”.

Maria found the trails worked different lower extremity muscle groups, especially in the hips. She found she felt much less physically spent after doing a long run on trails versus roads and recovered faster afterward. She loves the extra challenges of running over hills, mud, ice, roots and rocks. She says, “It’s so much fun! There are so many great trails to explore and races to run at all distances around our area”. It’s even more fun if you don’t mind getting dirty!

Maria notes that she does not advance her mileage any differently than she would on roads but cautions you may be tempted initially to run too many miles or advance too quickly on trails due to the forgiving nature of the trail surfaces and the novelty of discovering new trails. You may find you adopt a shorter stride when running on more technical trails and a quicker cadence – or number of steps you take per minute .She says because of the variable terrain, expect to run slower on trails compared to roads.

The only special gear she recommends is a good hydration pack/belt or handheld bottle and a good pair of trail shoes. The extra traction the lugged sole provides can be a big plus. Bug spray in the summer and a head lamp in the early morning or at dusk are helpful too.

Maria is a member and former officer of Upper Midwest Trail Runners (UMTR). This is a member-supported organization for anyone of any ability who likes to run off road. This organization sponsors numerous trail series including the UMTR Trail Series, 15 trail races throughout the year of varying distances around the state of Minnesota. This group also “gives back” by participating in trail maintenance, volunteering at races and promotion of trail resources, races and running throughout the upper Midwest.

For more information about trail running in Minnesota, go to the Upper Midwest Trail Runners website, St. Paul urban trail marathon

Marie-Christine Leisz, DO is board-certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, with advanced training in the diagnosis and management of running and endurance sports injuries. She is medical director of the Running and Endurance Sports Injury Clinic at Sister Kenny Institute and collaborates with the Sister Kenny RunSmart Physical Therapy Program. Learn more at and