Road vs Trail Running

There’s no doubt about it – road runners and trail runners are different breeds!

A lot of this blog will be very much what I have seen in the clinic, observed and experienced myself and I’d love to hear your opinions too so leave a comment below!

There are a few key differences between running on the road / built path and running on the trails so let’s dive in.

If you can run 10km on the road, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can do 10km on the trail

The training that you need for trail running versus road running is different. Time and time again I have seen runners who want to take on a trail run for the first time and try to run it the same time/speed as they would a road run – it doesn’t quite work that way.

Trail runs include changing surfaces, rocks, rivers, grass, undulating ground, hills, descents – all of these things really challenge a runner! It is a different demand or load than running on the roads/paths especially for your ankle and foot. The softer ground of the trails is less jarring on the body but also less stiff for push off so we often see a lot of lower leg/foot injuries here in the clinic because of this!

All runners need strong calves and foot control muscles but trail runners in particular need really good landing control and ankle stability/balance so that they decrease the likelihood of a rolled ankle or angry peroneal muscle!

Your cardiovascular fitness is often different for road vs trail as well because running up a hill is very different to running on the straight! 

Strength training for a trail run and road run are different – but you should definitely be doing it regardless! 

Strength training for runners is super important – running is essentially a series of single leg hops and single leg squats repeated over and over again. In order to be efficient and prevent injury it makes sense that you need to strengthen the muscles that control your hop and squat e.g: glutes, hammies, quads, calves, foot muscles and core (just to name a few, right?).

Some of my favourite strengthening exercises for runners are single leg get-ups from a chair, glute bridge variations, kettlebell step-ups and lunges and of course – calf raises! All of the different calf raises!! 

The shoes you need are different!

Road running shoes are different to those you need on the trail for a few reasons:

  • The surfaces are different – trail runners often have toe guards and rock plates to stop you from stubbing your foot on the uneven terrain
  • Weight of the shoes are different
  • The form of the shoes are different (different focuses on support areas in trail runners versus road runners)
  • Then there are a whole bunch of different types – minimalist, hybrid, etc!

Myself and the Podiatry team from Pod Fit Podiatry will be discussing this soon in much more detail! 

The vibe is different. I think. You may disagree.

Now this one is totally subjective. I’ve found that with road running events its all about PB’s, pushing yourself, competition (against others or just your previous times) and your Garmin app/strava!! Whereas with trail running I have found its similar in the Garmin app logging, strava etc (that’s pretty much just a runner thing I reckon!) but its more laid back, more about scenery, more about your own PB rather than competition.

Get a Running Technique analysis here.

Regardless of which event, the one thing I really love about running events is the sense of support and community; road runners and trail runners alike – everyone is supportive of each other, stops and helps if you fall down, cheers you on and high fives you at the finish line and there is a real sense of camaraderie!

Let me know what you think about trail versus road running in the comments below. I love both types of tracks – although I might be leaning a little more towards trail running at the moment because I just love running around the beaches and hills in the sunshine!! 

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Mana NankivellMana Nankivell
00:38 18 Apr 23
I highly recommend Trent and the Physio Fit team.I sustained a knee injury (fat pad impingement) in a half-marathon around 18 months ago, and after 12 months of seeing a (different) physio and sports doctors without any improvement, I was told by the doctor that I would "probably just have to put up with the pain".I booked in with the team at Physio Fit for another opinion, and it was the best decision I ever made. Trent put together a very manageable rehab plan for me and was quick to respond and adapt when something didn't work out. In the past 6 months, I've gone from not being able to walk without pain or even think about hiking, running or cycling without my knee flaring up, to running my first post-injury 5.5km trail run and hiking 10km with a 10kg pack!
Laura O'ConnorLaura O'Connor
08:47 05 Feb 23
This clinic is the pinnacle of physiotherapy in Adelaide. Ive seen a couple of different physios at physiofit over the years for different injuries and the experience has been absolutely amazing each time! Highly recommend seeing the team here for all your physio needs!
Ryen ArcherRyen Archer
02:50 03 Feb 23
Corey is absolutely fantastic, worked out my issues and we have been working to improve them for a few months now and all I can say is I am feeling a million times better! thanks physio fit! Keep up the great work!
Amy SzyndlerAmy Szyndler
02:44 03 Feb 23
I attended Physio Fit to get my tennis elbow treated. Always a friendly greeting from the lovely reception staff, and my physio, Corey, was fantastic; very friendly, knowledgeable and provided treatment that was personalised and holistic. Following Corey's advice and exercise regime helped me get back to the activities I enjoy, pain-free. Highly recommended.
Debbie MossDebbie Moss
07:21 02 Feb 23
Have been taking my daughter here for quite a few months now for ongoing back issues. The care that she has been given through her Physiotherapist Corey, has been fantastic. Everything has been explained and if exercises have needed to be modified he has. Would thoroughly recommend this place for any Physio needs. All staff that we have dealt with have been friendly and professional. A great team and environment.
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