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Avoid Roads, Run on Trails

You might think I am saying that you should never run on roads at all...not quite. Actually, not at all. HOWEVER, trail running for Obstacle Course Racing is superior. Let's take a look at some reasons why you should run on trails far more than roads for OCR training. The reasons listed below are in no particular order.

Reason Number 1: Roads are typically slanted to allow water run off. Generally, when running on roads, you are running against traffic...that's what's supposed to happen anyway. The problem with that is that roads are usually built slanted on both sides from the middle to the edges to allow water run off. If you are always running against traffic, then your feet are landing on a slightly angled surface potentially thousands of times per run...always angled the same way. Over time, this could lead to injury or less-than-ideal running mechanics. On the other hand, most trails have rocks, roots, debris, and uneven terrain throughout which requires constantly varied movement patterns from both legs. This both helps to strengthen the lower body in different positions, and helps reduce the risk of injury by reducing a consistent, repetitive movement.

Reason Number 2: Roads have no real give...what I mean is, roads are hard. There is a lot of impact on the body that results from running on roads that isn't present to the same degree on many trails. Now, very rocky trails will obviously increase the amount of impact, but you won't find soft patches of pavement, so the overall impact will be less on a trail.

Reason Number 3: Your pacing/heart rate/efforts will be different on roads and trails. Your speed, effort, heart rate, etc. will not be the same on roads as it will on trails at the same pace. Running trails takes more effort overall for many reasons. As such, if you only run roads, or mainly run roads, and you can hold a steady 8 min per mile pace at a moderate effort, you may not be able to hold that same pace at a moderate effort on could be a slightly harder effort, or a much harder effort depending on the terrain.


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Reason Number 4: Most trails are out in nature, and most roads that people run on are in built up, populated, areas. There are so many studies on the positive affects of simply being out in nature. Your trails might be through a forest, on a mountain, around a pond or lake, or a combination of all of those. Getting out in nature is worth it. In contrast, the roads you run are probably in neighborhoods, cities, and just generally in built up, developed areas with more traffic, pollution, noise, and so on.

Reason Number 5: This one matters a lot to me personally. To me, road running is both monotonous and boring. I don't personally care to see a bunch of buildings and houses around me. The majority of the time I don't need to think about, or pay close attention to, where my feet are landing because the road is usually smooth and obstacle-free. Trail running occupies my brain. I have to think about where I am stepping, watch for upcoming obstacles on the path like fallen trees, roots, rocks, flooded trails, etc. My favorite part of trail running is when I get to see animals though. I've seen deer, bears, foxes, groundhogs, and tons of other cool animals. I've also caught multiple lost dogs on trail runs...that's also fun. Trails are far more interesting!

Reason Number 6: Trails are sport-specific. Trail running, especially technical trail running, is a skill. Skills take time to develop. Most OCR's occur on trails, and thus having the skill to be a good trail runner will put you at an advantage over those who are not good trail runners.

There you go. Solid reasons why you should do more trail running. I know not everyone has the opportunity to run trails often, but if you have the chance, take it. There are good training reasons to run roads, but we'll get into those another time.

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