Saturday, February 20, 2016

Running on Roads vs Running on Trails.

Trail running vs...
To run on trails or on the road...that is the question for many runners.   A perplexing question, because  there are advantages and negatives to both.    I imagine you could skip the question all together and simply choose to run inside...either on a tread mill or on an indoor track.  But this question is for those runners who enjoy the Great Outdoors and the feeling ( or struggle) of the wind in their faces,  sun on their backs, and earth under their feet. Or those of us too poor to afford an expensive Gym Membership.
Road Running...Beep Beep!
So which one should you choose?  What are the perks?   And what will your choice say about you as a runner?  Let's examine them individually for just a bit. Shall we?

Not the best location in the road
First:  Running on the road.   By road, I of course mean somewhere on the shoulder of a road.   It would probably not be the wisest decision to run in the middle of a road that is shared by fast cars, big trucks, and "less than attentive" drivers.  Running along side a road has it's share of hazards, but also offers a large and groomed network of paths to train and enjoy.  Some roads even have paved shoulders so you needn't worry about loose gravel or large rocks to run or trip on.  The options for varying distances and new and different routes are endless.  And, best of all,  if you ever find yourself in need of help,  Civilization is literally passing next to you at any given moment.  Easy enough to flag down a motorist or have a friend come pick you up.

Arrested for running?
Of course the negatives are probably obvious:   Fast cars, big trucks and "less than attentive" drivers.  It may even be illegal in some states to run along busy highways.  Organized Marathons are nice in that they close the roads ( most of the time) for several hours so the runners can enjoy the full surface.   But simple training runs on your own, force you to be on constant guard for vehicles and bad drivers. Even around careful drivers there are still stray rocks, dust and car exhaust that can make your running frustrating.

Wow!   Beautiful!
Next,  let's compare that to trails.  Trails are great for several reasons.  The most obvious being that there should not be any scary vehicles on them.   That being said, they still have some issues that runners may not like very much.

First let's talk about the good.    Trails are beautiful!   They are usually cut through a state park or national forest area that offers breathtaking views and glimpses of wildlife and nature that may not be as obvious from a road.  Some offer challenges in that they vary in terrain and elevation,  so your workout can be varied more than just a single flat strait path. I mention they are beautiful?
And Cold...

The down side to trails is that many are isolated.  Meaning:   If you find yourself in need of help...there is no easy way for a rescue.  No phones, no cars, not a single luxury...
And Muddy...
Trails in the north  are seasonal.   Rain makes them muddy and slippery,   Snow makes them nearly impassable!  Very few are maintained, even during the summer!  (Except by certain volunteer groups and organizations.)  So it is possible your favorite trail could have wash outs, fallen trees, or overgrown areas that will make your run feel more like  Rock Climbing, Hiking or Wading instead of a comfortable, carefree jog.
 Many trails come with limits for distance.  This may not be a problem if you only run for a couple of miles;  But if you seek longer runs over 14 miles,   you may have to travel a serious distance just to find a trail that can accommodate.

Cheryl's ready to run!
So which is the right one?   The answer is probably a bit of both.   Cheryl and I first started out running along local gravel roads.   However,  the dust, rocks and even sporadic traffic helped force us to find a different location.   Luckily,  there are a number of paved bike paths around the city  24 miles away.
Perfect Mix of Trail and Road
They are maintained during the summer and even have bathrooms in a few locations!   However, during the winter,  the trail snows in and is not cleared for runners.

Great running even when wet...
That trail is also limited in its distances.   For her longer runs, we are forced to travel to another small town that has a 14 mile stretch of train track that has been converted to bike trail.   This trail, though nice, is not paved nor maintained very well. (Even during summer!)  It is a pleasant experience when the weather is nice, though.

Yet close enough to civilization
Cheryl has resisted the label "trail runner" because it brings a certain level of baggage with it.  However,   we find ourselves running along trails and bike paths more often now than along any road.  We are fortunate that there is at least a small section of trail that has all the bonuses of a road,  (paved, maintained, near civilization..etc.) but none of the hazards or dangers.   Best of all,  it is free!  No parking fees, entrance fees, or  memberships.

Running here feels....GREAT!
So if you are new to running and are looking for a place to run without putting your life in danger or health at risk,  I would suggest looking around your local area first.   Perhaps your local roads and residential areas are perfect for joggers.
Is this a Road?  A Trail?  You decide...
Maybe there is a gem of a trail just one small town over. Part of the fun is seeking out new places to try out.  And as the seasons change,  so might you in where you desire to train.  Just be aware that there is no single right answer...just different places to run.

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