Each year, more and more people choose trail running. It's an increasingly popular sport, as runners trade city asphalt with the blessings of nature.
Trail running provides several benefits compared to regular running, but it has its own set of rules that you need to follow if you want to be successful in it.
In this blog, you'll find out why trail running is so popular and what you need to take into account to enjoy it.
What is trail running?
If you are not familiar with trail running yet, let us explain briefly what it is and what makes it so attractive.
Trail running is an exercise that takes place in nature. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessarily associated with mountain running, although it's often performed on uneven terrain. Fundamentally, trail running only means running on a natural surface, such as forest paths, pastures, plains, or even deserts. The important thing is to move away from the city's concrete roads.
Unlike running on asphalt, where your pace and speed are usually what matters, trail running puts more emphasis on the experience provided by this activity. Amazing views, fresh air, and the discovery of unknown landscapes is what motivates more and more people to try trail running.
Although trail running favors experience over performance, you might still want to improve and get better at it. To achieve this goal, you might want to use a training plan.
What's the difference between trail running and road running?
Although trail running and road running share many similarities, it's running after all, they have many distinct differences.
The main difference is the surface you run on. With road running, you usually run on asphalt, while trail running takes place on a diverse set of surfaces. The more unusual the surface, the more interesting the experience.
Forests, pastures, even deserts and snow are a common and popular choice of trail runners.
Trail runners often seek out secluded corners of nature to find untrodden paths. The exploration and discovery of new terrain is one of the essences of trail running. Choosing your route takes planning, as you can't just exit your house and run, like you could with road running.
We said trail running is not necessarily associated with mountain running, but the terrain is nonetheless often very rough. Ordinary running usually provides little to no altitude difference, but trail running without altitude difference almost doesn't exist.
Nature provides numerous paths that go up or down, which makes trail running a much more diverse activity than road running. Uneven terrain breaks the monotony often associated with road running, as you need to be constantly focused and analyze your footing to avoid injury. It's unadvisable to trail run on autopilot.
A huge difference between the two types of running is equipment. Trail running requires special equipment, quite distinct from the one for road running. Trail runners also need additional pieces of equipment, without which the activity is not possible.
Trail runners use special running shoes, which are a lot more solid and better stabilize your foot. The sole is also different, with increased profile to improve contact with the surface, which can often be wet and slippery.
Trail running also all but requires the use of running poles, especially if running on a mountain. Running poles are very similar to hiking poles, but they are a lot lighter and have a special way of folding.
Trail runners are used to take care of food and drinks, even on special trail events or races. Aid stations are rare, which is why you'll often see trail runners wear a small backpack that contains the crucial energy gels, energy bars, and an isotonic sports drink.
Is trail running more difficult than road running?
As we've established, trail running and road running differ greatly. But it's difficult to say which one is more difficult. They both have their rules which make one more difficult than the other.
If we talk about energy consumption in a given length, than trail running is more difficult. Obviously, energy consumption varies according to a specific terrain, but on average, you will burn 10% more calories during trail running than road running.
Trail running rarely takes places on flat terrain, which increases energy consumption compared to road running.
The strain on your muscles in trail running is also different. Due to uneven terrain and the fact you often run uphill, you also activate your front and back thigh muscles and calf muscles. Even if you are well-trained in road running, trail running will make you feel those muscles. That's why you should gradually settle into trail running, with shorter distances you increase with training.
You must start trail running gradually, even if you are an experienced runner. Other muscles need to work, and you need to strengthen them more.
On the other hand, road running is more difficult in terms of fulfilling specific time goals per kilometer. Due to a smaller altitude difference and harder terrain, road running is faster. Keep in mind that several factors affect your running speed, but on average, trail running takes 20 to 60 seconds more per kilometer.
There is another aspect in which trail running is better than road running. It's about the stress on your joints.
Running puts heavy strain on your knees, especially if you run on hard surfaces. Good running shoes may help you absorb the force, but your knees will still take some. Knee pain is a reason why many runners quit.
Trail running takes place on natural surface, which is softer and more elastic than asphalt. This reduces the force absorbed by your joints, and running becomes a lot more knee-friendly.
Trail running puts less stress on your joints than road running.
How to increase your trail running endurance?
Every trail runner wants to run farther and faster. This is doable, but you need to be strategic. Simply running without a training plan might quickly end your trail experience.
The foundation to increase your trail running is training. There are no shortcuts. If you want to run farther, you need to train a lot. Training helps you to strengthen your muscles and cardiovascular system, which allows you to overcome longer distances.
During long trail running sessions, another limiting factor become your energy levels. Even if your muscles can go the distance, without energy you'll be forced to quit.
It's important to take care of your energy intake during trail running. This way you'll be able to run farther.
During endurance exercise, you must regularly intake fast sources of energy, which increase your time to exhaustion. Find out what supplements are best for runners.
Energy gels, such as 4Energy Gel, are a common choice of trail runners. They are easy to consume during exercise and provide a fast source of energy. You will quickly feel their effect, but keep in mind that you have to consume them before you feel fatigue. Once you feel fatigue, it's too late, as your glycogen has been depleted.
We recommend you consume 2 to 3 energy gels per hour of trail running, depending on its carbohydrate content and the intensity of your exercise.
To run farther, you also need to take care of proper hydration. The best choice is an isotonic sports drink, which provides both electrolytes for hydration and carbohydrates for energy. But be careful to choose an isotonic sports drink that contains correct concentrations of minerals, as they are essential for hydration.
After trail running, you need to take care of proper muscle recovery, which will allow you to repair muscle and refill energy levels. This way your body will be ready for further efforts and better adapt to your training session.
The simplest way to recover is by using a recovery drink, which allows you to start recovering immediately after exercise when your body is most susceptible to restore and replenish its energy levels.
Trail running is becoming one of the most popular forms of recreation. The reason is that it merges physical activity with time spent in nature and the discovery of new corners of the world.
Compared to road running, trail running has special features and its own set of rules. It takes place on natural surfaces, which provide a much more uneven terrain than a road. Uphills, downhills, rocks, roots, and mud are perfectly ordinary in the world of trial running, if not even expected and desired.
The uneven terrain also makes trail running very exhausting. You need to use muscle groups that are not used that much in road running, which is why you need to start trail running gradually and increase distance in accordance with your preparation.
Support your trail running with a sufficient energy intake. Without that, your adventure will soon come to an end. Energy gels and isotonic sports drinks are the best choice to provide energy during exercise, and afterwards trigger optimal recovery with a recovery drink. This will allow you to find long-term success.