I’ve run most of my life on the roads. I did running races, triathlons, and all my running pre-2012 has been on the road. I told myself I enjoyed it. Sometimes I did. Recently I began running dirt trails up mountains here in Thailand and Malaysia. I can now say that I love running more than anything, including biking, swimming, or any other sport I used to take part in.
Here are 20 Reasons Trail Running is More Fun!
1. Trails are cooler. No matter what time of day I run, the trail is always cooler than the roads are. In a hot place like Thailand, it’s essential that I take advantage of this fact.
2. Less direct sun cooking cancer on my skin. The last 30 years I’ve spent in Hawaii, Miami, Tampa, and Thailand. I’m not fond of the sun anymore and I don’t want to give it any more time to cook up carcinomas on my skin. Running on the trail with the tree canopy over top of me gives me more protection than I’d otherwise have. PS: I don’t like running with hats or sunblock.
3. It’s easier to talk people into joining me. Try asking your non-running friends (or even your running friends) to join you for twenty laps around the high school running track and see what happens. Nobody is interested. Ask the same group to go 5 miles in the forest and you’ll get more takers.
4. Trails go up and down more than roads. For some reason it’s in my DNA to climb hills. Must have something to do with our high school soccer coach making us run “hills” in front of the school after practice. I was always good at it. Climbing hills on the bike too – I’m made for it. So, anytime I can run up something – I’m much happier than running on the flat.
5. I can talk to myself on the trail. Yeah, I talk to myself sometimes when I’m trying to hash out a solution to something that’s bugging me, or, if I am trying to plan something. It’s funny, but as you get older you start to realize it’s OK to talk to yourself. At least where there is nobody around. Try that as you run down main street and you’re going to lose friends and gain gawkers. I also yell at myself on the trail. “Get your ass up this hill, you didn’t push THAT hard that you can’t bang this out!”
6. I can breathe PURE air – no automobile exhaust! The only bad smells I have to worry about are those foul odors coming from runners and hikers ahead of me.
7. Recovery is much faster! If I run 6 miles on the concrete, the next day I feel it quite a bit. Doesn’t matter if I’ve been running on concrete for the entire year before that, I still feel it at age 47. When I run 6 miles on the dirt and sand trails, I hardly feel anything the next day. I can train more, I can enjoy running a lot more without breaking down as much. I am injured much less since switching over to trails. My ankles, knees, everything is much stronger because the trail stresses everything gradually and strengthens it quickly.
8. I can look the fool. If I want to wear a half shirt just below my nipples, like those that were popular back in 1982, I can. If I want to tie my shirt into a headband and wear it, I can. If I want to jack my shorts up past my belly-button so my waist-pack doesn’t chafe me, I can. If I have to wear one of my running socks inside out because I have two “R” socks and no Left, then I can.
9. If a tree falls in the woods, YOU HEAR IT! I’ve had two big 80-100 foot high trees fall relatively close to me as I was running up the local mountain. The splintering starts, and panic ensues. There’s something about a hundred thousand pound tree flying through the air that will snap you into the present moment real quick. You have to quickly try to guess where that tree is going to fall. You have a couple of seconds. You never do figure it out until it hits the ground, but, the adrenaline rush is good for a couple minutes off your 10K time on the trail. Talk about feeling ALIVE!
10. Does a bear drop mud in the woods? YOU CAN TOO! I wake up early when I run, so I down a couple liters of water, Gatorade, and coffee before I start. Inevitably I’ve eaten a spicy meal at dinner the night before, so I’ve got to do a bear’s share of fertilizing the soil. Running on the streets you’ve gotta duck into stores and restaurants, gas stations, other places there might be peepers lurking. I prefer the trail for obvious reasons.
11. Wildlife. I’ve seen flying lizards, flying snakes, flying squirrels, geckos, mountain lizards, giant monitor lizards, red bugs, blue bugs, purple bugs, and polka-dot bugs, eagles, wild pigs, a deer no higher than my kneecap, a keelback snake, rat snakes, vine snakes, gibbons jumping tree to tree, and two hikers procreating. There is so much more fun stuff to see on the trail than on the city streets.
12. Easy to meet people. How many times have you met someone on your run down the street? It’s easy to meet people on the trail. They inevitably ask – “Are we almost there yet?” I’ve met people from all over the planet on my runs up the mountain.
13. I like not knowing what’s around the bend. There’s something innately exciting about running on a path through the forest that twists and turns a lot. The run is filled with continual surprises. Sometimes it’s a new tree that fell down, sometimes it’s an animal on the path, a spider’s web across the face, a bird that flies in front of your face, or a root that catches your foot and face-plants you. There are lots of surprises on the forest trails.
14. The trail forces me to be in the present moment. When I run on the roads I often drift off into some daydream about something that happened before, or something I hope will happen in the future. Road running almost demands this from my mind because I just don’t enjoy slapping my feet on the pavement tens of thousands of times during a run. On the trail it is much different. My mind stays fresh because it’s always in the present. I run on technical trails for the most part, so I have to watch where every foot-strike is going, or I will fall flat on my face very fast. I’ve proven this numerous times. There is something awesome about not thinking of the past or future.
15. I can bring my Bear Grylls folding knife with serrated edge! And I use it! Trail maintenance, you know. I hack thorn bushes, roots, vines, and these killer tree trunks with strong pointy things coming out of them. Not to mention the remote chance I’ll get attacked by a lynx, bear, or tiger. Once a Boyscout, always a Boyscout. Be prepared!
16. I can rest as long as I want, and nobody sees me slacking! On average I see only 2-4 people on the trail during the two hours I run there. That means I can run naked if I want. I can sleep for an hour at the top if I want. I can fly a kite at the top if I got the urge. Try falling asleep on a bus stop bench after running 10 miles on the road and see what newspaper and blogs you end up featured in.
17. Panoramic views road runners never get to see. There is no road up most of the mountains here, so I get to see these great panoramas that few people get to see. I love summiting, no matter how big the hill. Running up trails gives me many more opportunities than I’d get on a bike or in a vehicle.
18. I drink less water. That means I carry less water. Actually what I do is bring 1 liter of water and a 600ml bottle of Gatorade or some other drink. I hide the small bottle of fluids behind a tree somewhere on the run up the hill. Then, on the way down I grab it. This way I don’t need to carry it the entire trip. You wouldn’t dare put a bottle of Gatorade behind a tree on a city street. You know someone would do something distasteful to your drink – right?
19. No dogs! Though I’ve seen paw prints, I’ve yet to encounter a dog on the trail here in Thailand. I have been chased and nearly bitten on the streets though. Foreigners in Thailand all look like the mailman to dogs here. Be careful if you’re road running in Thailand!
20. I can routinely blow people’s minds. The conversation usually goes something like…
Some 25 year old friend of a friend: “I heard you climb the Ngorn Nak Mountain trail a lot.”
Him: “I hammered it to the top with my buddy last week in 3 hours round trip.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s pretty good.”
Him: “How long does it usually take you to get up and down?”
Me: “70 minutes.”
Him: Mouth drops and puzzled look on his face…
No more questions.
Anything else you can think of that makes you love running trails more than the roads?
List ‘em in the comments…