Trail to Road

Switching from road to trail running has its challenges, but so does switching from trail to road. First, you don’t want to run on the road with your trail shoes. Road shoes can be used on less technical trails and dirt roads. Trail shoes should not be worn on the road unless you are running a trail and have to cross the road to get to the next section. Roads and sidewalks will destroy the tread on your trail shoes. If you’re going to be running some roads, buy some road shoes or be prepared to replace your trail shoes after a few runs.

There is research out there, done by credible sources, which comes to the conclusion that the impact on your body is the same whether you run on the roads or on the trail. The theory is that your brain and your body automatically adjusts the stiffness of your legs and torso dependent on the firmness of the ground. When you’re on a trail you have to push off harder because it is a softer surface. On the road, your leg has to be less stiff and you don’t push off as hard because there is very little give in the ground.

I’ve read this research and my body disagrees. I can run a fifty-mile run on the trial and I will not be sore. If I run a marathon on the road, I will most definitely be sore the next day. Could it all be in my head? Sure, why not. The only way you’ll know if it’s true for you is to go try it.

One way to combat the soreness from running on the road is to buy high cushioned road shoes. There are a variety out there, just about every major brand of running shoe has both minimal and high cushion options. Keeping your stride length shorter will also help reduce the impact. Maintaining proper running form—head up, shoulders back, ninety-degree angle arms, nice forward and back swing without crossover, a bent knee and foot landing below you—will make sure the impact forces go through your body in the correct way.

The higher impact (in my opinion) of the roads also makes for a longer recovery between runs. Using your foam roller becomes extra important because you need to work out the knots and flush out the lactic acid which may have built up.

A few other differences are the level of pollution, number of people and cars. Out on the trail you have some critters and creatures out in the woods and some are a little scary if you run into them—mountain lion—but to me people are way more dangerous, and so are cars.

It is easier to find a toilet and to refill your water when you are running on the road. Although, a water filter and not being afraid to bare your bottom in the forest solve those problems.

I think we all run on both surfaces at some point. And there are enjoyable things about each of them. Being able to run is what matters most.

 

Road to Trail

 

Does your experience running on the road transfer to running on trail?

You’re knowledge of how your body deals with running transfers, although, not perfectly. This is because you burn about ten percent more calories running trails, which means you are going to have to fuel your body more. The other difference is hydration and electrolytes. At higher altitudes, you need to consume more water and electrolytes. Road runners do have a foot up on those who are just starting out because they have a base of knowledge.

When you first switch from road to trail, you’ll discover muscles and tendons you didn’t know you had because they are going to get tired and sore. On the trail, you have to pull in more supporting muscles and tendons as you work to balance and increase your agility. You’re stride becomes shorter and faster as you hopscotch through rocks and roots. Your ankles become stronger as they adjust to the changing surface of the trail.

Running road hills and mountains is very different. There are some difficult road hills, and you usually find them in the mountains. Running mountains requires strong hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quads. You’ll find yourself on steep grades for long distances. Few quarter mile hills here. I often find myself climbing for 6-9 miles in one go because of the switchbacks to get to ridges or peaks. Even most “flat” trails are really rolling hills.

Running down is more challenging on the road and on the trails because of the increased impact and the higher chance of over striding. Trails will keep the length of your stride under control, but they often have dips and steep drops littered with the lovable rocks and roots. Sometimes there are fallen trees and rivers too. You may have to walk some mountains because they are too steep to make it worth the energy expenditure to get up to them and you’re likely to go just as fast walking as running.

Trail running takes more time. The changing terrain, rivers, and steep/long climbs slow you down, so make sure and a lot for this if you have things you are doing after your run. Initially, you’re going to be more worn out after your runs as well. This will go away once your body is use to the higher demands of the trail.

Running in general destresses a person. Running on trails does this on a deeper level. When you are listening to birds and owls in the early mornings, rivers rumbling past, reaching a summit and looking out over row upon row of mountains it’s impossible not to just let all the stresses of life melt away.

I encourage everyone to run because of the many benefits of doing so and trails are the best place for running.