Trail Running vs. Road Running

Whether you just signed up for your first trail race, or you're simply looking to get a little off the beaten path, then there is preparation to be done!  The environment, terrain, attitude of participants and overall focus are very, very different.  It is this difference that attracts runners and non-runners alike to the sport.

While in the following words you will find a basic introduction to trail running, please note that trail running is meant to be experienced, not just written about.  So get out to the trails and get running!

Fear of injury is a common reason that many folks are wary of trail running.  Uneven terrain, rocks, winding paths that have sever drops and rises, cause many uninitiated runners to become anxious about what might happen out there... Now, I will tell you that it does take a little time to learn how to “see” the trail – however, the following thoughts should ease the mind a little and get the novice trail runner out there feeling comfortable on the trails!

· KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE TRAIL: Oh the temptation to look at all the natural beauty!  The first thing I noticed on my virgin trail run was that all I wanted to do was look around at everything but the actual trail!  This is a sure way to fall and get bloody hands and knees. (true story). It is imperative that as long as you are running on the trail – you keep your eyes on it. With twists, dips, rocks, roots, stumps and everything else it is a lot easier that even imagined to get tripped up. So YES!, look at the beauty of nature while you are out there – but STOP and WALK! And remember that if you look up or behind you while you are running...the likelihood of going down is greatly increased!

· 3 FEET:  Begin with keeping your attention about 3 feet in front of you. If you try to process every pebble, twig, root, etc. that you approach you will become physically and mentally exhausted VERY quickly. Instead, let the sensory information that your eyes are picking up wash over you. You won't have to think about where your foot is going to land.  Your mind/body connection will begin to “know” where it should have your foot land. Please note, this might not happen RIGHT away – in fact it could take a bit longer if you struggle to “let go”. However, if you stick with keeping your focus on 3 feet of you, the whole process will happen naturally. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF!

Barefoot Running vs Road Running infographic

· RUN SLOWER.  It is possible that the most note-worthy rule in trail running is to slow down. Yes, there are trail runners who blaze down single tracks at breakneck speeds and appear like deer – but even this select group had to slow down at the start of their trail running learning curve. Do not expect to maintain the same pace that you maintain on the roads or the track! I find that the slower pace in trail running actually brings to light one of the special differences between trail runners and road runners.  In my opinion, trail runners appear to enjoy the process as much as, if not more, than the results.  Road runners tend to be way more focused on the finish line and how fast they got there...stopping their Garmin's as they cross the finish line! As I've grown as a runner I find that I enjoy them both. I find I am a much less competitive or time driven runner on the trails.

· WALK WHEN YOU NEED TO: It's a simple concept!  A 10K trail race might (usually does!) feel like 10 miles. Trails require much more work from your body than roads do. The entire body needs to work hard to keep you moving forward on the trail.  Don't hesitate to walk steep uphill and downhill segments of trails – it conserves energy you might need to complete the run!  Remember – you are not running your road pace on the trail.  Let pace go!  This change in attitude and willingness to walk when needed is an essential attitude to keep it fun (and safe) on the trail.

· GEAR: Many road runners contemplate trying out some trails but don't do it because they feel they need all new/different gear.  While there are items that make trail running easier and at time more comfortable, there is no different gear needed to just get out there! With this being said, have you checked out the awesome gear available for trail running?!  Better traction in shoes, water friendly equipment, hydration systems – the list could go on forever!  TRAIL GEAR IS FABULOUS!

Trail running

For me, the most fun experience of trail running is getting dirty and doing things I would not normally do.  I don't want to care about getting my shoes wet, muddy or “ruined”. I don't want to wonder if my speed singlet is going to hold up in the forest branches. I DON'T WANT TO WORRY AT ALL ABOUT ANYTHING! Good gear that is created for the elements of the trail is a worthwhile investment – and fun shopping to boot!

Here them calling?! Yes! The trails are calling you!  Head out and take a deep breath while being thankful for the open spaces left for us all to enjoy.  Trail running opens us to the primal understanding of what we, as a species, were born to do: COVER GROUND.

Author: Kate Baron