It’s a question I get asked a lot on the Trail & Kale Instagram Feed: “Will trail running help with road running?”.
Yes, trail running most definitely helps with road running. Some key benefits of trail running that will help boost your road running performance are:
- it builds strength in extra muscle groups that will support key road running muscles.
- it improves your overall balance.
- it strengthens your core, which is important for good running posture.
- it allows you to put more training miles in with the reduced risk of repetitive strain injuries.
- running in nature helps to clear your mind from stress. Reduced stress means a receptive mind and body that can focus on training harder.
- the act of mixing up training will keep your running mojo alive. Always running on the roads can become boring after time. This mojo will motivate you to train more, and hence improve as a runner.
I’d classify trail running as running that is not on asphalt, concrete or roads. There are so many different types of terrain/surfaces when it comes to trail running, which is one of the things that makes it so fun and challenging. For example, you’ve got technical terrain which may include sharp rocks, tree roots, river crossings, and even sand. Then there’s the more mellow, or runnable terrain which may include buffed/smooth trails, forest trails, fire roads, grass tracks, and also long stretches of smooth rock.
Trail running gets even more interesting when changing weather conditions make the terrain reactive differently. For example when an otherwise easy trail, lined with smooth, dry rocks gets wet, suddenly they become slippery. This is why there are so many different types of trail running shoes to choose from.
So I’ve mentioned the different terrains, changing weather and the effect this can have on those trails, but what about elevation profiles that make most road running Strava graphs look like pancakes? Mountain races featuring extreme elevation gain and loss are for those who want more of a challenge from their trails. Yes, you need more leg muscle and endurance to get through a run like this but because this type of trail running requires that you climb and descend a lot (as opposed to running on the flat), you also need to learn how to pace yourself properly with a steady heart rate for various reasons. Beginners tend to burn out from issues like muscle cramping, GI issues (due to bad nutrition choices) or just find that their mental game isn’t strong enough yet to reach the finish, I have been through all of them myself. We have so much more trail running advice for beginner’s, so make sure you read through those articles. If you do happen to be a beginner, I’m envious because you’ve got the most amazing journey of self-discovery ahead of you!
How to start trail running?
It’s actually really easy nowadays, all you need to do is find a decent local trail to run on (don’t worry, there’s probably a trail within 30mins of you), get some decent trail running shoes and a few other essential accessories, and then simply go out and give it a try.
How to find trails near me?
Finding trails for running on was actually harder than you may think when I first started out. Strava didn’t exist and the network of trail runners who I could ask was much smaller than it is today, especially with the awesome social platforms that currently exist.
The easiest way is to find routes on Strava or simply build your own route based on Strava’s heatmaps feature, which lights up trails on the map based on how often they have been run by Strava members. This is so great because you can guarantee that it’s going to be a good trail, simply because of its popularity.
Trail & Kale also has a very active Instagram channel, so be sure to follow us there, so that we can inspire you with new images from our own adventures and also from our community members who use the #trailandkale hashtag. Our Strava Club is very popular too and it’s the perfect place to meet other runners in your area or just to get ideas of where to run next.
What to wear trail running?
You really don’t need much in the way of running gear for trail running, just make sure that the gear you do buy is comfortable, effective, and durable. As long as your trail gear is all of the above, then you will be able to progress as a trail runner in an enjoyable manner without having to replace cheap shoes every few months for example.
Three essential items that should be on your buy list when starting out are:
- a pair of great trail running shoes. Seeing as trail running is complementary to road running, why not check out our list of best road running shoes too.
- a solid GPS running watch to track your progress and motivate you to keep improving.
- a hydration pack/vest to carry any items you may want to take with you, including your phone, nutrition, and water.
As you progress on your trail running journey to mastery you’ll probably decide to take on bigger challenges that will require more gear to help you achieve your goals. Below are some extra guides for gear that will help with that:
Keep yourself informed with the best trail running advice
Remember, if you ever have a question that we haven’t answered in our Advice section or Beginner’s Guides, just reach out to us either by commenting on any article, messaging us on Instagram, or sending us a direct message via our contact form.
I hope I managed to answer the title question “Will trail running help road running?” and also some other questions you may have had at the back of your mind but if not, please just ask me in the comments, I’m here to help!