First of all, we should say that this article is not intended to be a competition – we will not be declaring a winner. Both trail running and road running are mightily good for body, mind and soul – and we encourage everyone to run whenever you can, wherever you can and enjoy it as much as you can.
What this article will do is compare trail running and road running, explaining the pros and cons of each to help you decide where you’ll head next when the mood takes you.
If you currently run exclusively on either trails or on the road, it might even persuade you to expand your horizons. So let’s get stuck in…
What is trail running?
Trails are your escape out of the city and into beautiful scenery. On each excursion you’re met with a mix of terrain, from bridge crossings to bridleways and gravel paths.
The underfoot is typically softer, replacing tarmac with soft gravel, track and the occasional bit of mud. You’ll encounter hills, river crossings and fallen branches determined to derail your run – but avoiding them is part of the fun!
If you haven’t tried trail running before, then you’re missing out.
What are the benefits of trail running?
While your local trails may be a little further out than you’d like, there are many benefits to switching out your running shoes and heading off-road. Trail running benefits include:
- Soft surfaces – easier on the joints
- Beautiful scenery – connect with and enjoy nature
- Less traffic
- Varied surfaces – hills and uneven terrain make you a stronger runner
Are there any drawbacks?
Going off-road is fun and provides a welcome change of scenery, but it’s not really for the feint of heart or for running beginners. Pitfalls of trail running include:
- Difficult for beginners – undulating terrain is harder to negotiate, one must be physically and mentally alert at all times
- An increased risk of going over on your ankle – injuries are certainly more commonplace on undulating surfaces
- Unforgiving for those with knee or hip pain
What is road running?
Most runners run on roads and pavements. The surface is less forgiving, but it’s convenient, easy to access, and there are endless route options available.
Road running is a little more monotonous than trail running - there’s a lot less to see and only pavements to negotiate and vehicles to dodge, but the fairly even terrain makes it a great option for tempo runs and other training sessions.
What are the benefits?
As road running is the most accessible to most runners, you’ll be pleased to read the following benefits:
- Road running is super-convenient – just leave your home and go
- It’s mostly safe – especially when running in well-lit areas
- Consistent surface – you know what to expect
Are there any drawbacks?
Road running definitely comes with its own challenges. Some of the drawbacks include:
- Very hard surface – not as good for the joints as trail running
- Street traffic – the hustle and bustle of the street can sometimes make for a stressful or broken run
- Stop-start – crossing roads and waiting for traffic can interrupt your rhythm and enjoyment
Trail running vs road running – which is right for you?
The answer to this is really runner-dependant.
Running on the trails lessens the impact on your joints and improves your balance and leg strength. If you have access to local trails and are a fairly experienced runner, we’d strongly recommend trail running for adventure and variety.
Running on the road is more convenient, predictable and great for those short on time. If you’re new to running, the road is probably where you start. Just make sure you warm up and down properly and pay lots of attention to the roads and traffic around you. And if you do suffer from joint pain, try limiting your time on hard surfaces to prevent any further distress.
As with any sport, variety is key: mixing up your runs is crucial to maintaining your enthusiasm for the sport.
So keep at it, keep trying new things and you’ll no doubt feel the benefits.