Should I run on road or trail?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. If a runner’s goal race is on a trail, then they should run the majority of their runs on a trail. If a goal race is on the road, then an athlete should run the majority of their runs on the road. This is known as specificity of training. Training should mirror, as closely as possible, race day demands. If an athlete is not racing and the above explanation has no bearing, then it comes down to the runner's preference. It is important to note that road is often less forgiving than trail.

What I mean by that is the surface of the road is harder, thus the reactive forces are greater on the runner. If a runner has knee problems or joint issues, perhaps a dirt path is optimal. Running on trail is often slower than running on pavement, as trails often include more elevation change, as well as trickier topography. So if speed is a top priority, some runs should be performed on a track or a flatter and more even surface. Also due to the variable terrain it often takes a lot longer to cover a given amount of distance on trail then on road. Keep this in mind when moving from road to trail.

It is usually better to structure workouts based on time when running on trail and based on mileage when running on road. If an athlete has a training plan based on mileage and chooses to do a trail run, approximate the amount of time it would take to cover the distance on the road and go out for that amount of time on the trail. The distance will likely be shorter, but the training overload will be normalized for the altered terrain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.