Making the switch from road running to trail running is incredibly rewarding, but it’s not easy. When it comes to trail running vs road running comparison, trail running often requires more technique to handle the terrain, and you will likely be running hills more frequently than you were on the road.
Here are the basics you need to know about trail running vs road running with three tips to help you transition from road running to trail running. Before you begin, be sure to take some initial measures:
- If possible, invest in a good pair of trail running shoes with a good grip on the bottom.
- Try to be somewhat familiar with the basics of trail running. (For a few ideas, check out this video on how to handle steep terrain so that you’re prepared for the hills.)
Now that we’re ready to trail run, let’s take a look at trail running vs road running and the three tips that’ll make your transition from a road runner to trail runner easier.
Tip #1: Don’t Do Too Much Too Soon
Instead, use your normal mileage as a guide for how far you should be running and try not to stray too far from your normal effort levels.
It’s natural to want to dive into the deep end when starting something new, but doing this with trail running can be dangerous.
Trail running can be much more taxing than road running given the precision it requires, so note how hard you are working within your miles and make necessary adjustments to keep your runs at an effort level similar to that of your last road run.
Even if your mileage or effort level is the exact same, you may need to bump up the mobility because trail running can do more damage to your body than road runs.
Especially in the beginning, be smart about this and go the extra mile when it comes to something like foam rolling. Preventing running injuries should always be a top priority, and that may require some extra effort when learning how to train for trail running.
Tip #2: Forget About Running Pace
Pace can be a great training tool for road running, whether it’s your “race pace,” a resting pace, VO2-max pace, or some other measurement.
But when we get to the trail, even if you’re in the middle of a marathon training plan, go ahead and throw all of those numbers out. Running metrics, such as pace and distance, simply don’t apply when running a technical trail, maneuvering through rocks or making your way through a slippery downhill.
Running Power is a way to maintain a steady effort and measure your overall workload as it measures your muscle load and reacts to changes instantly.
If you’re a true data enthusiast and just can’t run without looking at any numbers at all, try Running Power, which is a great metric to use when running in hilly terrain.
Heart rate shows you the intensity of your runs, but tends to react slower than power. That’s why the combination of heart rate and running power works best for pacing out on the trails.
You can use effort or intensity as your guidepost. If you know you’re heading out to do a moderate run, adjust your speed to do that.
Keeping an eye on your pace while trail running can be disheartening so avoid that route and focus on intensity and your perceived effort level.
Tip #3: Enjoy the Journey
Learning how to train for trail running races or just how to trail run in general is tough. It is crucial that you approach this training with an open, grateful mind. Enjoy the process.
Appreciate how hard it is to run two miles with 1200 feet of elevation gain. That’s not an easy thing to do! Re-evaluate what running success looks like to you so that you enjoy the trail running process and can appreciate what you’re doing.
Again, using your intensity level or effort level as the guiding metric will help here, because your mileage or your pace might not always be what you define as a successful run.
Trail running is a great way to train your mental toughness so emphasize that each and every time you head out on a trail run.
But if you can make that mental shift and enjoy the journey and the small victories that will come as you practice trail running more often, you will be more motivated to continue. You will enjoy those steep hills and the tough terrain.
In addition, trail running is going to bring some incredible views that road running doesn’t often offer. Take them in. Use them as a reminder that trail running is different than road running, and the transition is not always a seamless one.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.