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Runner Tips

Trail running vs. road running: Which is right for you?

A runner leaps over rocky terrain on a trail run.
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Trail running vs. road running. It's all the same, right? Running on the road or running on the trail, you're putting one foot in front of the other to chase those miles. Not so fast! While there are many similarities, there are also many differences and things to consider between the two.

Terrain

Running on the roads is more common than trail running for obvious reasons. You can throw on your shoes and head out for your morning loop right from your doorstep (unless you're one of the lucky few who have trail accessibility from home). Most of us are familiar with our neighborhood and feel comfortable running those routes. For most, running the trails means a car or bike ride to reach the trailhead.

When you're running on the road, you can easily zone out or focus on a podcast without much concern about losing your footing or tripping. Running on most trails is more demanding and requires mental focus to keep from tripping over roots, rocks, and debris.

Views

Nothing against the roads or pavement around town, but nothing compares to some of the breathtaking views you earn when going for a run in nature. There's beauty to be had on the trails!

Pace

Pacing may be the biggest challenge, in my opinion, for a roadrunner new to the trail. When running on the road, you can dial in a pace and maintain it. When you're running the trails, however, you can expect your pace to be blazing fast as you're bombing down a smooth downhill switchback and then four minutes slower when you're bent over pushing into your knees to climb the backside of the hill or mountain. Not to mention, your pace is likely to be slower as you're cautiously avoiding roots and rocks.

In addition, on the road, you can open your stride up and get into a rhythm. On the trail, you're likely going to be taking shorter, more intentional steps.

Gear

Finally, you'll need to consider your shoes. Road running shoes often have a smooth outsole and cushioned/supportive midsole to keep you comfortable and healthy on the roads. Trail running shoes offer more traction and protection on the trails, as you'll notice a more lugged, tacky outsole material as well as a more structured outsole to protect your feet from any jagged roots or rocks.

Trail running has certainly been on the rise in the last decade, with more and more people craving connection with nature. Yet road running stands the test of time as a great way to get out from home and run your neighborhood. I encourage you to give both a try and see what's best for you!

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

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Written By
Tim Kelly

Marathon Runner & Coach

Tim Running

Ohio native that loves travel, gardening, and helping people do more with their running than they thought possible. 8+ years as a running coach. 12 years as a runner and cyclist.