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.