TRAIL RUNNING VS ROAD RUNNING
So you're thinking of transitioning to trail running? Or looking to implement trail running into your training plans? After all, running is running, right? Well, there are some definite differences that you need to be aware of before just diving in. If you're a runner, taking to the trails probably sounds like an ideal way to marry your favorite sport with your love of the outdoors. After all, who wouldn't trade congested, concrete sidewalks for soft, quiet trails with gorgeous views. Transitioning to the trails isn't always as straightforward as stepping from pavement to dirt - a fact you'll quickly discover from sore ankles, burning quads and possibly some scrapes and bruises after your first trail run.
More Exhausting for your Brain and Body
"Anytime you transition from road and smooth pavement to trail and undulating terrain, there's more stress on the body and mind," says triathlete and running coach Bob Seebohar, R.D.N., C.S.C.S., owner of eNRG Performance in Littleton, CO. The terrain is uneven and the verticals typically steeper, so you'll burn more calories.
But the biggest change really comes in the mental component: While running on the trails, you need to pay more attention to the terrain, your footing, and even wildlife. You can't just zone out and repeat the same stride over and over like in road running, you have to constantly be adapting to changes in the trail.
Regular road shoes CAN be used on trails that are smoother or more hard packed, but trail running can require much more gear than road running. Running shoes for the road are designed to be lightweight and speedy when running on concrete or pavement, but you need traction, stability, and durability to protect your foot on all the surfaces you'll encounter on a trail (rocks, mud, sand, roots). See our article on Trail Shoes for more details.
Along with different shoes, trail runners will usually also have equipment such as hydration vests, storage belts, safety devices, and apparel for various weather conditions.
Trail running takes running do a different extreme compared to road running, hills are steeper, downhills more technical and overall uneven ground. All this requires a different type of strength. All runners benefit from adding strength training into their training plans, for trail runners this will help with the strength you need to muscle your way up that hill or to maintain proper form while moving over rough terrain.
Focus on Form
Because of the varied terrain, your form can vary as well. It is essential to try and maintain proper running form (landing on a bent knee) in order to be efficient and prevent injury. On the uphill, people tend to bend forward to much at the waist, or to over stride. On the down hill people tend to lean back and then land on a straight leg causing high impact. Maintain that good forward posture and bent knee landing and you'll find yourself flying along the trail comfortably.
So Why Trail Run?
Trail Running is a fantastic way to explore the outdoors and help you recharge mentally. Whether you're training for a road marathon or a trail race, trail running can help you increase your overall strength and power. Running on dirt is also much more forgiving on your body that pavement or cement. Adding runs on dirt will help reduce your risk of impact related injuries. Plus, who wants to ALWAYS be running the road around your neighborhood?! Get out and find a new adventure!