What Is Trail Running? Everything You Need To Know


Ask an athlete to finish a trail run one day and then a road run the next day. They’ll come back with a different story each time.

Trail running is much more challenging, considering the unreasonable slopes and the erratic terrain. To hit the nail on the head is not easy. But, what does it actually involve? How is it really different from road running? Let’s explore the details.

The Definition of Trail Running

The theoretical dictionary meaning of trail running is “the sport or activity of running along trails (paths through a countryside, mountain, or forest area)”. This generally involves steep gradients and unpaved surfaces, unlike running on a tarred road. It can be walking on big climbs too.

Running on a relatively flat, established surface and at a fairly even pace throughout is essentially road running.
In a wider sense, trail running could mean a jog in the park or a sandy/stone route. There are also some trail-runners who take up multiple day runs across long distances on off-roads.

The Goal

The main objective of going trail running is to experience the beauty of the wilderness. The journey itself is the goal. The path may get hillier, but it is truly like running at the heart of nature and is a way of connecting your body and your mind.

The Technique

The major difference between trail running and the other types of running, is that here, the distance doesn’t really matter. The most important thing is to engage with the terrain. So, it is important to improve your form to tackle the rugged path and increase efficiency.
Uphill Running - The first tip is to try use a forefoot strike. The stride is generally swift, quick and strengthens your calf muscles. Remember to warm up well before and stretch after.
Contrary to popular belief, leaning forward doesn’t get you there faster. Stay straight and remain balanced, so you can also breathe better.
It is also important that you keep your speed constant, try not to slow down too often as this affects your endurance. The swinging movement of your arms can pull you forward better.
Downhill Running – Firstly, pick a slope that’s more forgiving. This could be grass or gravel. Optimize your form by looking ahead and keeping your posture upright, leaning forward slightly and with a bend in your landing leg to avoid injury.
Unlike uphill running, your arms must make smaller, rounded movements for better balance. Remember, engaging your core is critical for stabilization.

The Benefits

Trail running isn’t just for athletes. Honestly, anybody can do it, especially since it transforms your body and mind with its innumerable benefits.
i)  Cardiovascular Stamina
Every time you take a stride, your hurt pumps blood and strengthens itself over time. A 2020 systematic study found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality among people who ran during the week.

ii)  Core & Muscle Strength
When done properly and with the right posture, running on difficult terrains can actually improve lower limb and core strength, balance and has other neuromuscular benefits.

iii)  Balance & Endurance
A vital factor that keeps you in good balance is a strong core and strong legs. Running often on irregular surfaces builds a solid base for stability.

iv)  Mental Well-Being
After all, the route to getting vitamin N for your body is the outdoor trail. Running in the midst of nature is known to unlock multiple mental benefits; when you run, endorphins and serotonin are released in your body, and these are chemicals in your brain that improve your mood.

The Difference Between Trail Running & Road Running

Terrain - While trails generally offer a softer surface to run on, there are also a lot more obstacles on the way. These could be rocks, leaves or fallen branches, so you’d have to slow down each time you encounter them. On the other hand, asphalt or paved roads are generally smoother, with less obstruction.
Pace - The stark difference between the two, as mentioned earlier, is the terrain. So, road running allows you to maintain a rhythmic pattern, while trail running is more haphazard.
Planning – For road running, all you gotta do is wear your running shoes and head out, with no specific destination in mind. As for trail running, you’d probably be on the lookout for an extraordinary setting.
Focus – Of course, running on the road means you have to keep an eye on moving vehicles and other pedestrians, and this depends on the area too. However, the sure-fire unpredictability of every trail – the boulders, twigs, waste – requires your full concentration and you can’t blink an eye, otherwise you could possibly injure yourself.

The Shoes

After having read the differences between trail running and road running, you probably would’ve guessed that you would require different types of shoes for each activity.
Trail Running Shoes – These durable shoes are generally made of rubber and have outsole lugs for improved grip on dirt and relatively softer surfaces, and even a rock plate for protection against the bigger obstacles. They’re designed for better traction.
Road Running Shoes – These lightweight shoes usually have a smoother outsole for good pavement grip, cushy midsoles for better shock absorption, and are more flexible than trail running shoes.

The Trails

Here are some popular running trails in India –
i) Vetal Tekdi Loop – Pune, Maharashtra
ii) Lalbagh Botanical Garden – Bangalore, Karnataka
iii) Chowpatty Beach – Mumbai, Maharashtra
iv) Sukhna Lake Trail – Chandigarh, Punjab
v) Om Beach – Gokarna, Karnataka
vi) Kullu Valley – Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
vii) Vellore Trail – Vellore, Tamil Nadu
viii) Damdama Lake - Gurgaon, Haryana
ix) Sohra Cherrapunjee – Meghalaya

c̶h̶a̶l̶l̶e̶n̶g̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶r̶a̶i̶l̶?̶ Challenge the trail. #ReadyForAnything


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


What does trail mean in running?

Trail running is a sport activity that involves running on rough surfaces and steep gradients. A trail is generally an unpaved path, like the narrow trail you follow through the woods on your hike.

What do trail runners wear?

A trail runner wears similar clothes to that of a city runner, what differs is mostly the shoes, considering the variability in the surface of the track. You need a good grip for running on these paths that have grass, rocks, and sometimes even mud, so your shoes should be waterproof.

As for your outfit, a lightweight, sweat-wicking T-shirt and shorts or joggers would be ideal.

Can you wear trail runners daily?

Trail running shoes are made to be versatile for different road conditions, so it is safe to wear them every day for different purposes.

Do you need trail shoes for trail running?

Yes, since trails aren’t paved, and you may step on rocks, or wet mud, trail shoes are specially made with more durable and supportive uppers, protection in the midsole, and better grip.

Can I wear trail running shoes for hiking?

Yes. In fact, trail running shoes are the best type of shoes to hike in, thanks to their ergonomically designed form.