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Trail Running Vs. Road Running – Key Differences

One of the key differences between road and trail running is that running on trails is more technical. Changing terrain and surfaces, as well as hills and brooks that you encounter on your trails, make for a varying experience compared to roads that are steady and somewhat static most of the time.

Because of this fundamental difference, if you’re looking to transition from road running to trail running, it’s a good idea to do it gradually.

Go easy on the mileage

Don’t expect to hit your normal road mileage on trails, at least not immediately. Running on loose terrain like dirt, sand, and gravel in addition to all the twists and turns you’ll face on the trail will require greater effort and more energy expenditure.

nstead of focusing on mileage, go out for set amount of time. Walk when you need to and monitor your heart rate to make sure you don’t go into the red too early.

Build your time on the trail gradually over several weeks to keep from overdoing it and to avoid an unnecessary injury.

Mix it up

The good news is you don’t have to only do one or the other. Try mixing up your routine by alternating trail and road running, as they can be an excellent combination together. In fact, running trails can make you faster on the road while giving your joints a break thanks to the decreased impact on the softer surface.

Trail running will also force you to use slightly different muscle groups than you’re used to, helping you to improve upon your weak spots and improve your overall speed when you do head back out on the road.

Change your running shoes

While you can probably get away with your regular old running shoes at first, investing in a pair of dedicated trail running shoes will make you more comfortable and help you to prevent injury.

Trail shoes will provide more stability to protect your ankles, legs and knees while also giving you more traction over a variety of different surfaces that you’ll likely have to deal with.

Focus on different running data

Trail Running Vs. Road Running – Key Differences

On the trail, it’s best to avoid getting fixated on the same running data you might be used to monitoring on the road.

If your goal for trail running is to find a calm state of mindfulness, it’s best to stay away from eyeballing a variety of metrics during your run. Instead, you can focus on the data you’ve collected after your workout is over. This can be a fun way to boost your spirit by seeing all the work you’ve put in and how you’re progressing your fitness.

If you’re a devoted data geek and need to have some metrics to go by while you’re out on the trail, here are two that will help you maintain an even effort:

    Running power

    On the trails, the varying terrain and elevation can make it difficult to use pace per mile to monitor your effort. However, monitoring power can be more useful, as is a more accurate way to maintain a steady effort and measure your overall workload.

    This is because running power measures the external load of your runs and reacts to changes instantly. Since heart rate tends to react a bit slower, the combination of heart rate and running power complement each other well out on the trail for pacing.

    Heart rate

    Keeping an eye on your heart rate will help you avoid going too hard. Varying terrain and uneven surfaces force your body to work in ways that are much different from harder road surfaces.

    Because of this, your heart rate will often be higher, while your pace will likely be slower when compared to pavement. Just keep in mind that your body will adjust and your heart rate will eventually decrease over time.

Athlete Tips From Runner Michael Wardian

“I think the most important thing for experienced road runners transitioning to trail running is that the miles are a bit slower, or you work a bit harder on the trails to run the same pace you do on the roads. It takes a lot more mental energy to be mindful of where you’re putting your feet.”

“Road runners also need to get comfortable with not being able to see where their feet are falling, especially when running in heavy grass or cover and on narrow trails, as it can change your stride. But like anything, it just takes a bit of practice.”

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