Should Beginner Runners Start with Road Running or Trail Running?

by Emma ThimmigMar 30, 2020
Should Beginner Runners Start with Road Running or Trail Running?

Should Beginner Runners Start with Road Running or Trail running?

So you want to start running… maybe you’re training for your first race or choosing to get in shape. Before you lace up, you’re faced with a decision: are you going to be a road runner or a trail runner? It turns out, there are advantages to both styles of training, no matter what your goals are. If you’re a total beginner or you’re looking to take your runs to the next level, cross training with a run on a new surface can round out your training regimen and keep you injury-free.

Female road runner wearing mint and purple ASPIRE Zero Stripe while running on smooth pavement.

Road Running

For most of us, road running is the most convenient way to get miles in. There’s no driving to trailheads required, and you have much more freedom in the distance you choose to tackle. Road running is a great choice for beginner runners because it provides consistency and control when training and the ability to focus on a particular skill, pace, or tempo during the workout. Due to flatter surfaces and consistent terrain, you’re going to find faster speeds and the stamina for longer distances on the road versus the trail. For social runners, road running can be more attractive as it is easier to engage in with a group than a run on a narrow trail.

However, running on roads can be dangerous because of traffic issues, risk of overuse injuries, and the less forgiving surface. Expect faster miles and better endurance when lacing up for a road run, but you’ll have to take good care of your muscles to avoid injury. Choose ultra-cushioned socks (like the MAXUS Zero Tab) and road-oriented shoes to keep yourself healthy, and include runs on softer surfaces in your training regimen to let your body recover.

Female trail runner wearing grey and red VIBE Five while running on uneven terrain.

Trail Running

Trail running can be a whole different beast than road running - and many runners prefer the adventurous alternative to the monotony of the pavement. The peacefulness of escaping urban life and the mental benefits of fresh air running are reason enough to start trail running and stick with it. Trail running requires relinquishing some control in your training; the curves and rise of the trail can dictate your speed and throw a wrench in your perfect pacing - so this method is great for beginners trying to find their stride. But trail running can also work wonders on your body: it can challenge you to mix up your stride and gait as well as building your balance and stabilizing muscles. Plus, the softer surface of the trail reduces injuries when compared to pavement-oriented workouts.

Yet, trail running does include more risks - inclement weather, exposure to the elements and insects, and obstacles like branches and roots can all cause injury. Trail runs can also be more difficult to reach depending on where you live and the accessibility of trailheads in your area. If you’re running to clear your mind, strengthen your muscles, and get some fresh air during your day, trail running is a great option. Beginning runners should opt for moisture-wicking socks that prevent blisters, like the VIBE Zero, and expect slightly slower times than their road runs.

Female road runner wearing pink FLITE XT Zero while running across a bridge.

Running on the road is a good choice for getting in shape or getting your training miles in, but runners who only venture out on the pavement can be missing essential cross-training by avoiding the challenge of trail running. On the other hand, trail runners who want to work on increasing speed or squeezing in quicker runs during a lunch break can benefit from heading out on the road between their longer trail excursions.

No matter what kind of runner you are, trying a new form of training can help you work on new areas of your muscles and avoid boredom or burnout. If you’re feeling like you lack motivation after a few weeks of training or start to plateau in your progress, it might be time to switch up your running surface. Good luck out there!