What is Trail Running?

It is more than just a sport. It’s an experience and some would go as far as to say it is a way of life. Trail running is a type of off-road running through natural surroundings such as hiking and mountain paths, forests, fields and gravel tracks. Officially, it’s a relatively young sport and has exploded in popularity in the last decade. Read on to discover the differences between trail running vs road running, as well as an explanation as to what are trail shoes.

23 August 2022

Trail running is not all about the run. One of the stand-out benefits of trail running vs road running is that trails offer a connected experience between runner and nature, a connection that’s hard to experience running through your local residential streets.

Here, we’ll answer the question ‘what is trail running and how it compares to similar activities and sports.

Trail Running: Step off the Pavement

A forest trail (Photo: Justin Paget via Getty Images)

If you’re looking for a more dynamic and exciting running experience, trail running is for you, but what is trail running and what are the benefits?

First off you don’t need to be at the foothills of the Himalayas to experience trail running, it just means running off-road on unpaved surfaces, so you can go to your local park or fields and become a trail runner.

From a physical standpoint, running on a variety of different terrains improves stability, endurance and balance and it’s not as punishing on your muscles and joints as pounding the pavement.

Mentally, these mini-adventures can improve mental health and keep you in the moment as you focus on every tree root, log, stream or rock, every change of direction and every hill, up and down. Above all, trail running routes are almost endless. It could be anything from a local park or forest, to a trail through the valleys of the Alps.

Road Running vs Trail Running

Road runners in action (Photo: freemixer via Getty Images)

Trail running vs road running is an age-old debate and there are pros and cons for each. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

There are plenty of people who are happy running around their neighbourhoods, but for others that’s not enough. Many trail running devotees say that once you hit the dirt you never go back. Proponents of trail running believe it provides a more rounded experience that involves fitness as well as a connection with nature.

What Do You Need to Start Trail Running?

Training shoes ready for running (Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial via Getty Images)

First off, you need a sense of adventure but more importantly, a sturdy pair of shoes. So exactly what are trail running shoes and how do they differ from normal jogging trainers?

Standard running shoes tend to be very light and designed to protect your feet and joints from the repetitive load of pavement pounding in a straight line – known as heel-to-toe motion. However, this type of running shoe often doesn’t provide the type of cushioning and support required for trail running.

What are trail shoes and how do they differ? Shoes for trail running have less of a heel offering greater stability over uneven terrain. They have thicker and wider soles to support lateral motion and a middle layer usually made of nylon to protect the runner’s feet from punctures. They also have a lot more grip than standard running shoes, and are specifically designed for rugged landscapes.

Other equipment for trail running might include a head-torch for night-time runs, a light waterproof jacket, insect repellant, plenty of water, your phone and energy bars or other suitable snacks.

Exploring Trail Running in the UK

Running on a beautiful day (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty Images)

Around 80% of the UK is considered to be rural so you may be surprised to know how close you actually are to a range of fascinating running trails. Having looked at the question of what is trail running – and the differences between trail running vs road running – the options for those who wish to explore trail running in the UK are as varied as they are boundless.


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