7 Reasons Why Trail Running is Much Cooler Than Road Running

Trail running facts

Trail running is a type of running on natural terrain.

I sincerely believe that trail running is underrated, not only in Ukraine (although especially here), but worldwide. 

For example, the New York City Marathon, part of the World Marathon Majors (a series of marathons with a $500,000 grand prize) had around 53,000 finishers in 2018. 

Meanwhile, the well-known Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Mont-Blanc Ultra Trail each had around 5,000 finishers in 2019.

Of course, there are several explanations for this:

  • More prize money in road races attracts more professionals
  • Trail race slots are often (but not always) more expensive
  • Typically, it takes longer to travel to major trail races, and they may even be on different continents
  • Trail running generally requires a higher entry threshold, as the most interesting distances are tens (or hundreds) of kilometers long

Nevertheless, the growing number of participants in trail races shows that the number of trail running enthusiasts is increasing rapidly. 

So what makes trail running so attractive?

Trail running: a sport with a million-year history

Pheidippides, Greek runner who got us all running marathons
The Greek runner who got us all running marathons

History is an important part of any sport. When it comes to trail running, this is especially true. We may never know who among our ancestors first decided to run, but it’s safe to assume their goal at the finish line was a piece of meat, not a medal.

Based on research into the effects of running on humans, there is a scientific hypothesis that prolonged running was the most important event in the transformation of our bodies and development in general.

The length of our legs relative to body weight, strong glutes, developed Achilles tendons, the longitudinal arch of the foot, and short toes compared to our ancestors are all perfectly suited for long distance running, leading the author of the hypothesis to suggest that running was responsible for these features.

Furthermore, when we compare our species, Homo sapiens, to animals, our bodies are better adapted to running long distances, which requires us to balance speed and endurance. You can read more about this here.

The first documented ultramarathon runner was the same guy who, as many believe, died because he ran a marathon

Information about him appears in the writings of the Greek philosophers Plutarch and Herodotus.

According to legend, Pheidippides (that was his name, he was Greek) ran 34.5 kilometers from Marathon to Athens and proclaimed “Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam” (Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!) and died. Few people know that the distance of 34.5 kilometers was just a normal walk for him.

Athens-Marathon Route
Athens-Marathon Route

Some time before that, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta (240 kilometers) and back.

Obviously, this guy became the first ultramarathon runner about whom we can find more or less reliable information.

Today, you can run the “Athens Authentic Marathon” (THE SAME Athens Marathon) based on Pheidippides’ runs and the 250-kilometer “Spartathlon” (a mix of road and trail).

Trail running gives a feeling of harmony with nature and relieves stress

The relatively small number of trail runners, which I mentioned earlier in the post, is actually an advantage of this type of running.

Mass participation is the most important factor in road races. Thousands of people: participants, fans, and volunteers are constantly around you throughout the race.

Trail running, on the other hand, allows you to run without seeing people for many kilometers (especially if the distance is long and there are few participants) and be alone with yourself and the surrounding landscape. This is a unique feeling of unity with nature, especially if you have already run far from the city.

Trail running is a good way to experience the feeling that arises when you have run somewhere very far away, and there is no one around.

In the post about the benefits of running, we already learned how running affects a person’s psychological health. In trail running, this benefit can be added to the experience of constantly changing natural landscapes and fresh air.

For those who are often stressed out, I strongly recommend checking how trail running affects your well-being. For me, it’s like a reboot.

Trail running is the most diverse form of running

Forests, mountains, deserts, jungles, ice and any other natural landscape you can imagine are suitable terrain for trail racing!

The distances of official trail races can range from a few kilometers (White Stones Trail, 2 kilometers) to several hundred kilometers (Tor des Géants, 330 kilometers). Very often, the distances of trail races exceed the distance of a regular marathon, thus earning the title of ultramarathons.

Trail Running, Mountain Running, Skyrunning, Fell Running – these are just a few varieties of running on rugged terrain.

The trail community

Trail Running Community
Trail Running Community

The atmosphere around any sport is created by people.

Since there are far fewer participants in trail races than in road races, the communities of trail runners have far fewer people who ended up there by chance.

This is cool because trail runners share similar values. Personally, I have had only positive experiences in interacting with trail runners, and I really like that we 100% agree  on some issues (such as environmentalism and pollution, for example).

Trail Running Etiquette

Most trail runners understand why it’s not appropriate to leave traces of their presence in nature and litter. There is even a Wikipedia article on “Trail ethics,” which includes the following rules:

  • The right of way belongs to those moving uphill;
  • It is not advisable to shout loudly or listen to music. Exceptions include areas where there is a possibility of encountering bears;
  • Minimize your impact on nature;
  • Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians, and pedestrians must yield to equestrians.

Here is an example of how trail etiquette is implemented in our area: in the Ice Trail race that I participated in, a personal cup for drinks provided at the aid station was included in the list of mandatory equipment. So, each participant had their own cup.

I’m sure you know what aid stations look like at road races:

Typical aid station after a marathon
Typical aid station after a marathon

I’m not saying that all trail races are always eco-friendly and that all road marathons always produce tons of garbage. However, this creates an impression that trail race organizers, for the most part, at least consider their impact on the environment.

Against the backdrop of the increasing amount of garbage, a new type of running has emerged, called “plogging.” Run and pick up trash: that’s the whole point of plogging.  


Trail running races – the most beautiful and the craziest

Trail Running Routes
Trail Running Routes

Earlier, I wrote about the most beautiful running routes in the world, so there is no doubt that trails can be simply out of this world.

Recently, I stumbled upon a video of the Ultra Janosik 2019 race in the Polish Tatra Mountains. My jaw dropped:

This is just one example of relatively unpopular trail running races that simply amaze with the beauty of their routes.

The highest trail in the world, the “Everest Marathon,” takes place near the Everest base camp at an altitude of about 5,500 meters. The race offers a choice of 21, 42, or 60 kilometers.

One of the longest races, the Moab 240, covers a distance of 383 kilometers. The incredible ultramarathon runner Courtney Dauwalter covered this distance in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59 minutes, beating the second-place finisher by 10 hours.

You can find out how much she slept and what she ate during the race by watching her interview with Joe Rogan.

Barkley Marathons is considered to be one of the toughest races. Since 1986, only 15 people have been able to finish it. The main challenge is not the distance, although it is over 150 kilometers, but the elevation gain. You need to climb 16,500 meters, which is about the height of two Everests.

Trail Running Develops Your Body Better

Trail Running
Trail Running

Despite the lack of scientific evidence to prove the benefits of trail running compared to asphalt running (which I explored in the article “Myths and Facts About Running Surfaces”), there are clear signs that this issue has not been studied deeply enough.

In the running community, it is generally believed that trail running is still more beneficial than road running. At the very least, we can be sure of the following:

  • Constantly changing surface firmness is best for the knees and joints (a study from this article);
  • Muscles and ligaments develop better by moving on a surface that constantly changes;
  • Due to the changes in elevation, the load on the entire body is very diverse, which also contributes to better development;
  • You can run longer in clean, fresh air (a study from this article).


Trail running is cooler than road running! 🙂

Especially for me, an amateur runner who doesn’t aim to run a marathon in 3:00:00 or compete with anyone in terms of speed. I still love road races for the feeling of running through a closed off part of the city and the mass character of the events, but trail running has definitely become my favorite type of running.

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