…the great debate amongst runners. Which is better? Everyone seems to have a very distinct opinion on the matter, based on their own personal experience or style of running. But in reality, the two are so different that, arguably, they’re as comparable as baseball and football – sure, both involve teams, a ball, and a lot of running, but apart from that, they’re two entirely separate sports. Similar situation here. Different culture, different community, different challenges and different successes. So if trail running really is that different from road running, what makes it so, and do these changes make it in any way better?
Trail running has seen a remarkable rise in popularity over recent years, especially as competitive runners are looking towards it as a way to protect their joints and avoid injuries. As one who is currently sitting on some pretty impressive shin splints, I can understand the logic that goes into that one. But, beyond injury prevention, what makes trail running different from road running? Personally, I dig the view – trail running is another great excuse to get out into some green, see the woods, get lost, maybe find yourself somewhere up a mountain. It’s also a little bit more of a sweat, since you’re running on uneven terrain, and working harder to stay balanced on your running surface. This is also strengthening your core, and improving your overall sense of balance. Finally, it gives you some time of peace and focus. There are a lot fewer ipods and fancy run trackers out on the trails, and a lot more silence, solitude, and focus. When else in our daily lives do we allow ourselves to unplug, tune out, turn off, and get out?
That being said, there are a few distinct advantages and disadvantages to both:
Trail Running: pros: softer surface, causing less injury and joint pain; more muscles worked and more effort exerted due to a more difficult terrain; time in green space is proven to improve your mood; your brain engages more when running on an unpredictable surface; and it’s much better for your lungs than running on the side of a busy road. cons: the unevenness of grass or trails leads to a higher risk of ankle injury; it’s not always the safest option, since you are so secluded, and especially at night; also, it requires a lot more time and preparation – you usually have to drive to a trail, while there always tend to be roads nearby.
Road Running: pros: it’s easier to get more mileage under your belt with a paved, steady terrain; most big races are road races, so you’ll be more prepared for those; a road or paved surface is almost always available to run on; and it’s not likely to be as steep, or if it is, it will at least be far more predictable of a course. cons: constantly pounding the pavement in the same motion for miles and miles a day will cause injuries much quicker; and roadside fumes of vehicles can do damage to your well-trained runner’s lungs.
In Conclusion: both are awesome. Trail running might be a little better for your joints. But road running is much more accessible, especially for those who are short on time. So rock both options. Keep your 6 am runs around the neighborhood during the week, and maybe schedule some time to get out to Hanging Rock or even a local park with your dog or spouse over the weekend. In this, as with all things, balance is the key.