How Trail Running is Different from Road Running

Jason Saltmarsh
by Jason Saltmarsh
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How Trail Running is Different from Road Running

Trail running is a great way for runners to inject fresh energy into their runs and have fun exploring the natural world. Let’s be honest: As adults, we still need time to play, and the promise of adventure lies just beyond the treeline.

If you’ve never ventured off-road, you’re in for a treat. But for the trail newbie, there are a few serious things to consider before grabbing your water bottle and heading into woods.


If you’ve logged any number of miles on paved streets, you know quite well they’re full of noxious fumes and distracted drivers. How many times have you held your breath when a big truck passes or jumped out of the way of an oncoming car? Probably too many.

Conversely, the tranquility of a run in the woods may only be disrupted by the occasional passing hiker, the scolding of a crow or a curious dragonfly checking you out. Overall, though, the experience of running off-road is blissful solitude. In fact, arriving back at a busy trailhead after a beautiful run can sometimes feel a bit disappointing.


Trail running can also prevent common running injuries. The camber of the road combined with repetitive pounding can cause stress fractures, plantar fasciitis and shin splints. Running on grass, gravel, wood chips or pine needles can save your legs and add longevity to your running career.


Many wooded trails present obstacles like jagged rocks, roots and mossy logs. Trail running requires continuous scanning of the ground ahead of you — much more often that you would on the roads — to help you avoid twisting an ankle, stepping on a critter or falling on your face.  


If you’re running in the mountains, consider temperature changes and exposure above the treeline, which means packing extra gear or being ready to shed layers.


Trail running requires prior research. You must know where you are and where you’re going at all times. A trail can travel for miles into the wilderness, and you’re likely to come across many forks in the path. Smart trail runners carry a trail map or stick to the main path for an out-and-back run, if the area is unfamiliar.


The kit of a trail runner resembles that of a road runner with a few minor adjustments. Trail runners often wear shoes specifically designed to protect their feet from sharp rocks and provide extra traction on slippery surfaces. Bug spray, bear spray and a safety whistle are also good items to consider keeping with you. Depending upon the duration of your run, you may want to bring along a hydration pack loaded with snacks, a phone and a first-aid kit.

Want to mix up your running? Make it a goal to run on the trails this spring. You won’t regret it. In fact, share the experience with a friend. You’ll thank us later.

Under Armour has teamed up with POWDR Resorts to create the UA Mountain Running Series, an experience of a lifetime for trail running enthusiasts at the most iconic and beautiful mountain resorts in the United States. The race course locations will feature diverse climates, seven different distances and varying elevations built to push athletes at every level to their personal limits. Register now for a summer you won’t soon forget.


About the Author

Jason Saltmarsh
Jason Saltmarsh

Jason is a competitive masters runner and freelance writer who covers sports, fitness and healthy living topics for several national magazines and websites.


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