The breakdown: Road vs trail running

Dec 5, 2019

There is a lot of discussion around road vs. trail running, but for some runners it’s nice to have a mix of both. Danny Mackey, coach of the Brooks Beasts in the USA, gives his insights into the pros and cons for both types of running.

Road Running

Road runner


  • The surface is more “known” so you do not have to worry about ankle sprains or tweaks as much on the pavement. Leading into a big race if you have the option of pavement or a trail, go pavement to reduce any last minute, sneaky injuries.
  • Road has a higher friction dynamic then soft surface. So if you are dealing with soft tissues issues (like achilles) run on the bike path versus the soft dirt or gravel so you are not slipping at toe off, or at contact.
  • If you are trying to run fast on the track or roads, pavement is more specific to your race surface. Ground reaction forces are high on pavement so there may be workouts where you want to mimic these forces to help your body learn how to manage and adapt to get stronger.


  • The road does not compress below your foot and with 2-3 times your body weight coming down with each step this increases the chance of stress related injuries to the muscular-skeletal system.
  • Road typically means city running, which means cars and curbs. Safety becomes a top priority to ensure that you are following traffic regulations and being aware of what is going on around you. You would not want to step off a curb and injure yourself because you were not paying attention.

Trail Running

Trail runners


  • Having an “unknown” surface is great for strengthening the intrinsic muscles in the foot and the stabilising muscles in the lower leg.  Running is chronic and having a unique landing surface with each step can help prevent some overuse injuries.
  • Dirt has lower ground reaction forces than hard surfaces, which can help prevent bones injuries.
  • Beautiful scenery! There is something special about being in different environments and running in nature.


  • Chronic injuries show up on the roads but the one-time, out-of-your-control acute injuries (such as a sprained ankle) come from the trail.
  • Lack of conversation. Most trails require runners to pay attention to the ground and trails are typically single file so you cannot run next to your fellow training partner. What you gain in scenery you might lose in good conversations with a friend or training buddy.


Article courtesy of Brooks Running Company


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