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As a historical sleuth (aka history major), I have uncovered newly-discovered evidence that George Washington, our First President of the United States, was a trail runner. Ironically, I wrote a speech that I competed with as a kid identifying Washington as the person I most admired in junior high school. The above quote is from his Rules of Civility that I have been recently re-reading. Of course anytime I see the word “RUN” that jumps off the page at me with more significance. “Run not in the streets”. So no running on roads either? What does that leave? Trail running and maybe running on sand. Yes, aqua jogging too.

This reminded me of an excellent Twitter chat we had last Sunday night (#ultrachat) where we discussed “road running” vs. trail running. Almost everyone participating in the chat was much more inclined towards trail running than road running.

The running surfaces we run upon can have a great deal to do with how healthy we are, injury prevention, and yes, there seem to be more road running injuries than on trails (anyone have solid empirical data to prove or disprove that?).

Let’s unpack what this quote means. “Run not in the streets” in my interpretation means run somewhere else. (You could make the argument that it means not to run at all but that cannot be what Washington meant, that’s a ridiculous interpretation to me so I reject it.) There are solid safety reasons to not be running irregularly through the streets or if there is too much foot and/or vehicle traffic. Even bikes can be an issue on the streets. We all have to share the streets as motorists and pedestrians, right? I might be stretching the meaning of Washington’s quote by saying run not on roads but to me, roads and streets are interchangeble. Sometimes the only difference is on the street sign. Perhaps the Department of Roads would object but they also have oversight over streets, too.

There are some running form hints in Washington’s quote, too. Run not too slow (or you will come to a complete stop). Is a snail’s pace too slow? Obviously the long slow distance runs must be kept intact. Washington appears to prefer nasal breathing while running as he advises against running with your mouth open. Unless you’re hungry, right?

The “kick not the earth” with your foot is great advice, especially running on trails or kicking tough objects that will resist the force of our feet and knock us down. I’ve tried this and have slipped fallen while trying to kick something, especially not knowing exactly what it is.

Also, don’t run on your toes. Or you can get injured or slip/fall, causing injury. That’s solid advice.

I would disagree with Washington over the don’t run like you’re dancing. I think the case can be made that running and dancing are somewhat similar and running does resemble dancing when we are immersed in an effortless running groove. (See my Desert Dancing blogpost on my Run Laughlin race experience.) We can groove while dancing and running. Groovy!

Why shouldn’t we run on roads/streets so much? The stress upon our legs and joints is more dramatic on a harder surface than on trails, sand. Also, uneven pavement (potholes, cracks in pavement) I would argue is a much greater hazard than maybe 75% of trail hazards. With trails, we are expecting the unexpected. With road running, we usually are not unless the hazard is clearly marked with a sign and/or a barrier of some sort (usually it isn’t and is more dangerous than the actual or proverbial banana peel).

Also, there is the issue of running safety: runners injured and/or killed by collisions with motor vehicles is more prevalent on roads and streets than trails.

Sometimes trails are not going to be available and maybe a treadmill isn’t accessible and roads/streets as a surface may be our only option. That’s fine but we need to exercise proper care and caution to ensure that we do not sustain injuries or worse, adjusting for weather, traffic, etc.

So our alternative choices instead of road running are: run on trails, run on sand, cross-train (swim, bike), designate a rest day or a day to walk instead (still counts as activity for step counters). Or you can add sports: add swim and bike for triathlon.

The only other safe alternative is to grab your horse and ride. Surely General Washington would want you to ride to a safe area to run on trails. From this, we can infer that George Washington was a trail runner. He’s not saying it directly but the historical evidence is strong according to his own writing. Let’s listen and obey Washington’s wise sage running advice that has stood the test of time and hundreds of years of observance.

How about you: do you run on roads/streets or not? How often? Why or why not?