Don’t Hit the Road: 5 Reasons Why Dirt Beats Pavement

Which would you choose: distracted drivers, monotonous pavement, stoplights, and car exhaust...or the fresh air, exhilarating downhills, and pure freedom of nature's very own running playground?

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a diehard, born again, trail runner. Sure, my running roots were planted under the asphalt, but once I discovered the fun, the muddy challenge, and the feeling of primal freedom that I experience on the trails, I never looked back.

Well, with the exception of the occasional road race, that is.

Regardless, I share with you the above disclaimer in order to admit that I might have a slightly biased opinion when I say that trail running is far superior to road running.

Or, at least some of the time it is. And here’s why:

You can forget boredom.

You know that 5K road loop through your neighborhood like the back of your hand. You know every cookie cutter house, which neighbor doesn’t trim their bushes and instead lets them hang over the sidewalk obstructing your path, and where the potholes are located that you need to avoid. This is great if you plan to run blindfolded, which hopefully you are not. But let’s face it, that same route can get pretty boring and monotonous when done day after day.

Trails, on the other hand, offer constant adventure. Sure, the layout of the actual trail itself doesn’t often vary, but the trail condition will. Leaves? Mud? Streams that are crossing trail? Snow? It’s all there on any given day. And you never know what kind of wildlife you might see (or run away from) out there. Every trail run is like a mini-adventure.

Which brings me to my next point:

Trails are more fun.

Running down a long, steep, paved road can actually be quite painful, the pounding aches in your feet, knees, and hips. Running down a long, steep, windy trail full of rocks and roots can be terrifying and exhilarating…and really fun. You’ll feel like a little kid again as you sprint carefree through mud puddles and carefully (…or not so carefully) hurdle downed trees. Trails are nature’s playground, and we all need to channel our inner child from time to time.

There’s no traffic.

Are there any runners out there who actually enjoy inhaling car exhaust as they are gasping for oxygen? Or how about the constant paranoia that comes with trying to avoid distracted, texting drivers? And let’s not forget the angry motor vehicle operators who seem to think they own the road, and make it a point to let you know that runner’s don’t belong there?

The answer is no. No one likes these things. And out on the trails, you don’t have to worry about cars, exhaust, distracted, or disgruntled drivers. Maybe an occasional disgruntled squirrel, but chances are low that a tossed acorn will cause any permanent damage.

Need to find a bathroom?

There’s one right over there. And there, and over there too! They’re called trees…and they are everywhere. Lowbrow? Perhaps. But it’s true. Just be sure to use appropriate “going in the woods” etiquette (yes, there is such a thing!) to ensure the integrity of the trail, protect the environment and wildlife, and prevent any fellow runners from accidentally coming in contact with your waste. Gross.

Trail Runners are more laid back.

Sorry road runners, it’s true. But, in my experience, road runners are often very focused on a specific goal, be it a PR or a Boston qualifying time, both in racing and in training. Their focus is often so intense that they may seem introverted and sometimes even abrasive. Now, that’s not to say trail runners aren’t also focused on goals, but they seem to care much more about enjoying the experience of their run or race rather than the time it takes them to finish. For example, during my very first 50-mile race, the lead runner of the race actually stopped to ask how my race was going, as he knew it was my first ultra. How incredibly welcoming is that?

Trails are good for you.

All subjective opinions and jokes aside, trail running can be incredibly beneficial, even for you road runners. From building strength, to stability, to an alternative type of interval training, and proprioception training, trail running is good for ALL runners, road, track, and trail alike.

Now, I’m not telling you to ditch road running. You can enjoy your smooth terrain and I’ll enjoy my rocky one, and I promise we can live together in perfect running harmony. But I am saying that if you ever need a change of pace, or need to find a way out of a training rut, or simply want to avoid running burnout… hit the trails. You won’t regret it.

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