Trail Vs Pavement Running: Which Is Better?

Trail vs Pavement Running which is better

Which is the better option for running…trail vs pavement running? Let's take a look. 

I've always been a proponent of road running. After all, you probably have at least one good paved sidewalk within a few blocks of your home. Pavement running means that going for a run is as easy as tying on your sneakers.

Moving to a place that has many wooded hills in state and county parks has begun to change my mind. I've had a chance to be out in nature while getting my daily run in and there's something undeniably special about the experience.

I decided I wanted to know, from a fitness level, which one is better. I spent some time doing research on trail vs pavement running and this is what I've learned.

Table Of Contents

The Pros And Cons of Road Running

Trail Vs Pavement Running
Predictable surfaces you cover while road running mean that you can clock higher speeds

As I mentioned before, pavement or road running has the advantage when it comes to accessibility. Nearly everyone lives in a place where they have at least some small stretch of pavement where they can run. There are other advantages associated with this running surface, as well.

The level, predictable surfaces you cover while road running mean that you can clock higher speeds. You'll be able to complete an eight to ten mile run in much less time than you would on an uneven trail.

Road running also allows you to fall into that meditative state that exercise brings more easily. You don't have to constantly be on the lookout for stray sticks and rocks, allowing you to fall into flow state and enjoy the motion.

Road running, of course, also has its downsides. Pavement is a harder surface, which puts more strain on your muscles and joints. It is much easier to sustain repetitive motion or overuse injuries when you are striking the same part of your foot against the ground over and over during a run.

Running on roads also can be dangerous if you are sharing the pavement with passing cars. Luckily, there are more areas with separated greenways that allow runners to get out there without having to worry as much about traffic. 

The Pros And Cons of Trail Running

Trail Vs Pavement Running
According to researchers, being in natural environments decreases our stress levels

Trail running tends to attract people who are as interested in being in the great outdoors as they are in increasing their physical fitness. Researchers say that being in natural environments decreases our stress levels. Since exercise is also a mood enhancer and stress buster, going out on the trail for a run gives benefits in two different ways.

A trail run also offers variable surfaces, which can allow you to more easily vary the intensity of your workout. When you are running up and down hills out in nature, you are working different muscle groups than you would during a pavement run on a flat surface.

Running on trails also gives you a softer surface to run on. During high mileage runs, this can mean less risk of repetitive stress injury.

Trail running, however, has risks of its own. The uneven surface and potential for hidden obstacles increases your chances of falling or rolling an ankle while you run. 

You are also going to go more slowly during a trail run on a twisting, hilly trail. Expect your pace per mile to drop anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds.

Do You Need Special Road Running Or Trail Running Shoes?

Many people who are just getting into running choose one versatile everyday pair of shoes and use it for every surface. However, if you are spending a lot of time out on the road or on the trail, you may wish to consider surface-specific shoes to improve your performance and cut your risk of injury.

Road running shoes should have smooth blown runner soles to provide a strong grip on the pavement. These shoes are typically lighter and more flexible than shoes made for trail running.

When choosing trail running shoes, look for ones that have lugs or stickier rubber that help you get purchase on looser surfaces. They should be stiffer to protect your feet and have features like rock plates to protect against jagged rocks and roots. 

Once you have specialized shoes for each surface, avoid using them outside their intended environment. Trail shoes can wear down more quickly when used on hard pavement. You are at an increased risk for falling or injuring your foot on a rock if you wear your road shoes on the trail. 

The Final Word on Trail Vs Pavement Running

When it comes to trail running vs pavement running, the best one to choose is the one that fulfills your running goals. 

Trail running:

  • Allows you to get out in nature.
  • Provides a more varied run.
  • Is on softer surfaces.
  • Carries risk of trip and fall injury.

Pavement running:

  • Is better for building speed.
  • Is more predictable.
  • May be more likely to cause repetitive motion injuries.
  • May expose you to danger from passing cars.

FAQs About Trail Vs Pavement Running

How does your pace change in trail running vs pavement running?

Expect slower times when trail running, as you have to slow down to detect potential obstacles.

Do you need specialized shoes for trail running or pavement running?

It is a good idea to buy shoes specifically for each surface to avoid injury and increase performance.

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