Trail Running or Road Running?

Trail running or road running? That’s an eternal question for many runners. I was very fortunate to have jumped on a trail just a few months after I took up running. Even though my first race was the San Francisco Half Marathon and it was a road run, almost every other race after that has been a trail run that’ve had decent elevation gains. TL;DR, but my quick take away is that trail running is the best thing since slice bread (for me). If anything, I feel that trail running makes my road running way better, has made me stronger with better endurance and more power.

Trail Running or Road Running

I was thinking about this after I finished my first flat road marathon just a week ago. I thought I was going to finish at 3:35, but it got really warm during the last 8 miles and I ended up finishing 3:49. But the funny thing is the Woodside Ramble 35K Trail Run that I ran just a month ago took about four hours. That’s 7km shorter, but with a 3,100 ft. elevation gain. The difference was in how I felt at the end of the runs, both physically and mentally. I was spent after running the road marathon, possibly dehydrated to some extent with serious mental fatigue. The trail run? I was tired, for sure, but I was chirpy at the finish line and even my recovery was quicker. Here are some things about trail running that are awesome.

Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta

Marble Mountain Wilderness

Marble Mountain Wilderness

Forget the pace. When you are running on the road, people focus on pace and splits. In trail running, there’s only an average pace, ‘cos you are going to be slowing down on the up hills, flying and churning up the trails on the downhills, wading through creek crossings, side-stepping the wrath of coiled snakes, crawling through fallen trees and pausing to remove the twig stuck in your Luna Sandals. 🙂 Your pace on trails flows with the terrain and is excellent for active recovery.

Dance with nature. I feel that trail running is a whole-body experience where you can’t just zone out, listen to songs and get it over with. Maybe elite runners can, but not mere mortals like me. And there in lies the difference. On a trail there’s all of running, jumping, climbing, slipping, tripping, falling, wading, crawling, hiking and walking which means you never completely fatigue and overuse just one set of muscles. The monotonous, repetitive, relentless pounding on road runs, on the other hand, cause way more fatigue (physical and mental).

Take the scenic route. Road runs like the Big Sur Marathon with rolling hills and spectacular views are exceptions, but most road runs are yawn when it comes to scenery. There’s definitely the excitement of running with other runners, but nothing like summiting a hill while sucking wind just to find yourself alone, surrounded by a cathedral of redwoods. Somehow I feel that trail runs infuse me with more energy and enthusiasm because every step is an adventure. That said, I have written previously about little things you can do to make road runs more fun, if you cannot get to trails easily where you live.

Enjoy the Quietude. Dealing with one’s own mind in the quietness of the trail where the only thing you hear is the gentle rustling of the leaves and the pitter patter of your own feet is hard at first, but incredibly rewarding. The week before the Western Pacific Marathon, I was in the Marble Mountain Wilderness and got to run on amazing trails (more like dried up creek beds) with Mt. Shasta looming on the horizon. During those three hours runs, I met a couple of family of deer, said hello to a snake, almost climbed up to the snow line and ran past manzanitas in full bloom (the flowers are edible). Moving meditation, is the best way I can describe it. No cars, nobody around, no service on the phone just the here and now. Something very primal and deeply satisfying.

What do you like better? Trail running or Road running and why?


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