Most of us have been on some sort of trails when hiking – the unpaved muddy roads that lead into woods and nature all around or into bare hills and mountains with stone and gravel and rock. A trail run is generally all these – sometimes dirt toads, sometimes rocky, but almost always hilly.
When we started running distances beyond a marathon (50 km/50 mile) I used to wonder why all the ultra marathons are on trails and not on roads, the answers led me to some of the differences between trail and road running.
- Most trails are parks are owned by the state/public and can be open for quite a while which makes it possible for the time the ultras take.
- Running on trails is softer on the knees than the road which makes a big difference in the longer distances
- You can just be with nature
- The terrain is very rugged and requires your constant presence
While the trails can be less impact on your body (not down hills though :)) it takes a lot out of you to do the same distance due to the concentration that it requires.
The equipment for running trails is quite different than when you run on the roads, it gets darker earlier in the woods and you need to carry head lights. There is very little support you will receive and you generally need to carry enough water, electrolytes, food. I use a fuel belt and also a camelbak. I also had a lot of trouble initially without trail running shoes. Trail shoes are different from road running shoes – they are one piece in the full sole and doesn’t bend as much as road running shoes, this way the entire foot moves together and different bones and muscles in the foot don’t rub against each other. Unlike road shoes that give a lot of ankle protection trail shoes “break” easily at the ankle. The twisting at the ankle takes a getting used, but your ankles get stronger and it ensures that the foot doesn’t get hurt in the longer run due to the uneven terrain. The shoes also have a hard sole which helps in making sure that stone and sharp edges don’t penetrate the shoe and hurt the sole of your foot.
When you like to run on the main roads of a city, have crowds cheering, have plenty of support from friends and many water stops you run a race on the road. The times you look forward to quiet contemplation, be with nature, challenging yourself like never before when no one is watching. This is when you run trails. As one of the fellow runners mentioned road running is good for personal records, but trail running is good for the soul.