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How distinctive is trail running from the conventional road marathon?

Running = O2
Running = O2
Modified 28 Jul 2018, 11:43 IST

Trail running is a sport which consists of running and trekking over the path, track or unpaved lane or road. It differs from road running and track running in that it generally takes place on hiking trails, often in the hilly terrain, where there can be larger ascents and descents.

In general, however, Marathon is typically raced over shorter distances as compared to trail running events. The amount of organized trail races has grown over the past few years throughout the world. Runners often absorb less impact stress as compared to marathon running, as well as the countryside and non-urban environment, as primary reasons for preferring trail running.

 One of the biggest advantages of running on trails is that the softer surfaces will reduce the impact on your body. This is true. But to me, the pros to running trails are simple: They will ease you down. Most of you already know, take your easy workouts easy, and your tough days tough, but the more people I coach and the more I observe, the more I see runners continuing to push at a speed that isn't necessary on their easy recovery days, and they aren't allowing their body to recover well.

Active recovery is an integral part of any training workout for any distance. It helps in building your aerobic system, muscle memory, muscle endurance and recovery from a hard training session. Running an easy-intermediate technical trail which is a little curvy, rocky forces you to slow your pace and take your time, putting a lighter training load on your system. On roads, most runners tend to be very conscious of pacing well and sometimes push harder than they should. The mountains and turns of the trail forces to focus more on how our body feels and less on our watches.

Road runners enjoy the flat asphalt surfaces that are great for speeding and achieving new PBs. On the other hand, trail runners simply cherish the feeling of running through the scenic trails while tackling roads of varying elevation and obstacles. Both road and trail running bring about several benefits and unique running experiences.

A few key pointers – Trail running Vs Road Running

1.      Form of Body – Legs vs. Full body training: Flat road terrains involve the lower part your legs and seldom engage the core muscles when accomplishing slight slopes. As trail runners, they encounter all sorts of running terrains including sand, rocks, mud, and more, in differing weather conditions and elevations. This results in a full body workout, requiring several muscle groups to work together at the same time for balance, strength, power and resistance. Therefore, trails are more effective for training your legs and ankle joints compared to roads or treadmills.

2.      Race Configuration – Clear, hard asphalt roads vs. Natural trail: Marathon road races are fantastic for runners who love consistent, stable and predictable running surface. These hard tarmacs are genuine for speed and distance workouts because they require relatively low energy to complete the same distance as on trail. Runners would also expect lively and vivid race day activities, massive expos, well-marked race routes and distance markers. On the other hand, if you enjoy the thrill of uncertainty, adventure and a variety of running terrains from rocky roads to dirt paths, trail running for sure will top your list of sports activity!!! It is a combination of exploring nature while soaking in the rush of adrenaline in the wild. Unlike road races, trail races usually do not involve clear distance markers/ flags or race day events; Nature itself becomes the jungle gym for trail runners.

3.      Focus – Stride and pace vs. Agility and endurance: With accurately marked out roads, noticeably obstacles and persistent running surface, road runners can place more spotlight on controlling their speed and stride. In contrast, trail runners have to advance at lesser speeds with more caution and alertness to their surroundings for road threats that are living and non-living. The erratic and distinct natural elements require runners to adapt, respond and react in time so as to prevent undesired injuries or mishaps.

While the best running terrains may be a personal option, there are still pros and cons to each category. Whether you enjoy running on the street or on trails, check out the benefits and drawbacks of running on different terrains.


Running on:

Asphalt / Tarmac

Pros: Since most races are run on the tarmac roads, if you are training for a race you should get off the treadmill, so you will be more in harmony with any hurdles on the roads. Also, running on the asphalt can benefit those who have an issue with Achilles tendonitis, since the sturdy surface keeps your Achilles tendon in a less-tensed position.

Cons: The road is made up of many different obstructions and dangers, from broken roads, potholes to cars, which can make running more treacherous.

Remember: When running on the road, always wear reflective gear and make sure you turn your music down low so you are aware of the surroundings.


Pros: Running on the sidewalk paths can be the most favorable if you reside in a city, and it also may be the safest option if you don't want to risk it on the road.

Cons: Concrete paths are one of the hardest surfaces you can run on, which may impose more stress on your joints and muscles. Most running Gurus suggest to limit your time on the sidewalk. However, the other school of thought says that there is no difference in the amount of stress on your body when you run on the sidewalk versus running on the road. But if your body is in distress like ankle sprains or knee pain, it's probably best if you stay off the road.

Remember: If you want to run on concrete, make sure you have the best footwear for the workouts. Wear shoes with adequate cushioning if you find that running on concrete leads to joint pain.


Pros: Grass is soft and low impact, so it may be an appropriate choice for people who have impact-related running problems. It's usually rated as one of the best surfaces for running.

Cons: A run in the park can be a little stressful! Besides hidden holes, rocks, and breakthroughs, you also have to watch out for other obstacles, like pedestrians, pets, and other disturbances.

Remember: Not paying vigilant when running on grass leads to injuries like a twisted ankle, so make sure you keep aware of the ground.


Pros: Nothing beats a run on the beach to take leverage of the hot summer season. Besides being one of the most relieving and beautiful ways to workout, running on sand offers a fantastic way to work out little-used muscles as well as burn more calories than running on less exhausting surfaces. Since sand is soft, you can run on the terrain without risk impact injuries.

Cons: Uneven soft surfaces like sand can bring disturbance on weak ankles and can lead to sprains and injuries.

Remember: Don't start running on sand if you've never tried it before. Begin on the wet sand first for a robust running grip.


Pros: Behind grass, dirt roads are often counted as one of the best terrains to run on. Dirt has just enough hardness and headway to make for elite running surface, especially if you are prone to shin splints, IT band problems, or other injuries.

Cons: The asymmetrical surfaces of dirt trails can be bad for your ankles.

Remember: Like grass, dirt trails can be uneven, so pay close attention with your strides.

So, which terrain is the most appropriate for regular running? The answer: all of them. Depending on your body and your history of injuries, you should hip hop which surface you run on so you can work and strengthen various muscles and keep your body from acknowledging too much to same terrain. This will help you stay injury-free. If you haven't changed your running surfaces in awhile, start slowly when you switch it up so you don't overexert yourself which will lead to injury free running.

As always, I look forward to your comments.

Published 28 Jul 2018, 11:43 IST
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