Trail to Road

trail to road

Why would you go from running on the trails to running on the road? Of course, some people like running on the road and don’t like the trail, or at least prefer roads over trail. This baffles most trail runners who love the mountains and the challenges and variations they offer. Being in nature and away from the busy, exhaust filled streets of the city is like a mini vacation from everyday life.

Roads can be more convenient for a runner who is pressed for time and cannot drive to the mountains. I admit it is great to be able to walk out your front door and start running. Those runners who are able to do this on the mountains are lucky runners.

Heavy rain and snow can also deter some trail runners from pounding the trail rather than the road. Driving icy roads or roads piled high with snow can be dangerous. The goal is to keep running and not do anything to jeopardize our ability to run, especially for an extended time. Sliding your car off the road or into another car, is not conducive to more running.

So how do we make that transition?

There is research out there that says there is no real difference between running surfaces because our legs automatically adjust their stiffness depending on your shoes and the surface you are running on. When I read these studies, it makes sense and is a simple concept. Our brains adjust our muscle tension based upon our surrounding conditions without our being aware of them all the time.

In my experience, this is not true. I hurt less when I run a fifty-mile trail race than when I run a marathon on the road. Maybe this is because I’m more relaxed when surrounded by a natural forest as compared to a man-made brick and mortar forest. It could also be the variation in the trail and our use of more supporting muscles and tendons to adjust to an uneven surface. All I know is it is harder on my body, and in my mind that increases the risk of injury.

There are a few things you can do to minimize the impact forces of running on the road. First make sure you have a good pair of road shoes. Trail shoes tend to have less cushioning. Second, make sure your form is correct so the force of the impact travels through your body in a way that minimizes it.

The easiest way to do this is to imagine there is a string from the center of your sternum pulling you toward the sun or the moon. This keeps your chest open, shoulders back, and head up. Your knee should be slightly bent upon impact and directly under your center of gravity. Strengthen your hips and your abdominal muscles to be able to maintain proper form throughout your runs.

The smart phone app Treadmill trails shows has videos on your phone of trails and can keep you at least somewhat connected to trails when you can’t get there for whatever reason.

These two things will make that transition more gentle on your body.


5 thoughts on “Trail to Road

  1. Pippa @ Pip in Motion December 10, 2015 / 4:52 pm

    I wish I could run more trail! I live in Central London where it’s kind of impossible, but I always try to run on the grassy parts of parks to lessen the impact on my poor feet!

    • Nicole Lowe December 12, 2015 / 12:49 pm

      I ran roads for years before switching to trails. Are you able to get out to trails on weekends?

      • Pippa @ Pip in Motion December 13, 2015 / 11:24 pm

        Hopefully so, I’d like to plan a few trips for the new year. Will be spending xmas with my family though and they live in the country so it bodes well 🙂

  2. Spongebunny December 10, 2015 / 5:31 pm

    This is a fitting blog since the snow is coming for the trails and I need to get my mind wrapped around the concept of running on road, and it’s about time on my feet. Thanks for writing.

    • Nicole Lowe December 12, 2015 / 12:51 pm

      It’s not just a physical transition for dedicated trail runners, but mental too, which can be even harder.

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