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How To Go Further In Running: Trails Vs. Marathons

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Running is a very versatile sport.

It’s executable in a variety of terrains, cost-effective due to the redundancy of using sports equipment and one of the few sports that facilitates mass-scale community involvement in the form of marathons.

It’s a hobby that’s highly accessible to the common folk and doesn’t discriminate against stature, ethnicity, gender or orientation.

As long as you have a pair of legs (or even if you’re handicapped with a prosthetic), you’re good to go. 

Elaborating on its versatility, there are so many variations of running: running on pavements, running on stadium tracks, running on mountain trails, stationary running on treadmills and many more.

The more invested an individual is in running, the more one will realise the underlying complexities underpinning this seemingly straightforward sport.

Oftentimes, running enthusiasts would cite key criteria differences between road running and trail running as an attempt to highlight the inherent nuances of the undertakings required in across running variants.

Pace is not always the answer

For example, in trail running, effort is more significant than pace.

As compared to road running, pace is not a key factor in ensuring success.

Instead, effort is more pertinent to this running type because of the challenging demand of running trails.

Given that running trails include undulating terrains such as mountains, it presents a variety of physical challenges uniquely found in trail running and not road running such as: lung-burning ascents, altitude sickness, uneven debris-filled surfaces of loose gravel and exposed tree roots, styles to climb and many more.

When met with environmental obstacles like these, pace becomes irrelevant because the majority of one’s energy expenditure would be channelled in remaining vigilant and dodging these pitfalls.

Therefore, the success of trail running is highly dependent on a runner’s perceived effort as opposed to constant pacing.

As a result, the variations in managing these challenges would dictate the type of specialised training programs to improve the runner’s capacity to meet these requirements accordingly.

Trail running training might focus more on breathing exercises during running to increase lung capacity whereas road running training might focus on core strength to sustain prolonged running. 

Longer distances but faster lap times

When it comes to timing, road running is superior to trail running given that distance remains constant.

Once again, since the unevenness of a trail greatly hinders a runner’s pace due to the physiological effects caused by altitude gain and descent.

By extension, their pace time would invariably be affected too, usually for the worse.

Conversely, the relatively smoother terrain of road running presents less of an environmental challenge, allowing runners to enter and maintain a steady pace throughout the distance.

Thus, a runner would be more than capable of sustaining a 6-minute mile as opposed to a 16-minute mile up and down elevations.

Therefore, when it comes to trail running, it’s best to put your watch away and just enjoy the journey.

Trail running vibes are more immaculate

More often than not, most runners would begin their running journey via road running due to the lower barriers to entry.

It’s considerably less demanding in rigour and most inexpensive to fund as a hobby due to the minimal equipment needed.

All you need is a decent pair of running shoes to take you far. 

However after a while, it’s not unusual for these roadrunners to desire a new chase.

The high from consistent endurance runs no longer inspires them and they yearn for greater challenges.

Hence, many of them end up turning to trail running as an alternative to revitalise their love for running in unfamiliar yet exciting surroundings. 

However, veteran trail runners have also claimed that trail running isn’t as high-adrenaline as one might think.

Instead, trail running is ostensibly more chill and unassuming; providing an activity that allows the individual to both enjoy nature’s company and beauty at one’s own pace.

Nonetheless, there are of course, anomalies of hardcore trailblazers who go many extra miles (no pun intended) to run continuously for multiple days across formidable distances.

Trail running is more costly to fund

Understandably, given the rigor of trail running, the logistics required to partake in this running variant is considerably more intense than road running.

If a runner intends to run over treacherous terrains for extended durations unprotected, they’re just spelling out their own disaster.

An underprepared runner is a failed runner. 

Depending on the intensity of the trail, trail runners might opt for a hydration vest instead of holding a water bottle because it’s more multi-purpose in storing hydration and nutrition conveniently.

It minimizes carrying unnecessary heavy gear that would only impede on their running experience.

Moreover, higher altitudes also necessitates additional layers of clothing in anticipation of colder temperatures.

These specific trail gear contrasts starkly to the simple outfit, shoes and probably watch for road running.

Trail running and road running are interrelated

Although it’s been established throughout this article that road running and trail running are highly different, they are still fairly interrelated to each other.

A pro-road runner would feel the burn of blazing trails due to the mental endurance required to persevere through it.

Likewise, a pro-trail runner would feel the fatigue of running flatter, simpler terrain due to their lack of physical endurance to sustain long distances.

As a result, these variants of running are essentially two sides of the same coin; one side is not more superior than the other, each boasting equal merits.

At the end of the day, they utilize the same body part — your legs.

The only difference is the external stimuli of variable environmental circumstances you’re subjected to. 

My personal preference is trail, I find it an equaliser, people which are faster than me on road are suddenly my equals on a trial route.

But I also like the scenery, the challenge, the great outdoors.

I probably do more road running, it’s just easier, to put on my trainers and go for a run. Especially during the winter. Plus I much prefer Ultra marathons and Im not aware of many road ultra’s especially here in the UK.

Running isn’t a sport for everyone.

However, it’s a sport that everyone can do.

It doesn’t take a trained professional to put on a pair of shoes to start running, all it takes is the determination to overcome the initial inertia.

Or if you’re naturally passionate about running, then great.

Don’t let the timings and distances determine your worth as a runner.

As long as you’re willing to take the first step, you’re already a runner.