In recent years the sport of trail running has made huge gains in popularity. It seemed like only yesterday that specialty running stores offered only a couple brands of trail shoes and just a model or two at best. Today trail running is simply becoming more mainstream and the running market is flooded with many types of trail shoes as well as trail accessories. Trail running is no longer considered a niche or a fringe arm of running, as more and more runners seek to the solitude of the woods.
I personally started out as a road runner often referred to as a “roadie”. I strictly raced road distances from 5k to road marathons. However I soon came to realize I live in a mecca of outdoor trails here in WNC. I grew up here and hiked lots of trails with my family, it never did occur to me that one day I’d be running down these same trails. I remember back several years ago when my wife who was the co-founder of Jus’ Running in Asheville, NC told me about trail running. I think I was purchasing my tenth pair of Brooks Mach 1’s (road shoes) when Anne said “you know there are some great trails around here for running.” I thought how in the world does someone run on trails with all those rocks, roots, mud and leaves?
She sent me out to the trails in nearby Bent Creek Recreation Area and I was admittedly apprehensive at first. However it was actually easier than I thought and soon I was running on trails several times a week. It was quite relaxing, therapeutic and simply more fun than the roads for me. I could not get enough of the experience and the euphoric feeling of floating along a trail in the secluded woods.
Trail races back in the late 90’s were few and far between even throughout the Southeast. Shut In was and still is the big trail race around here in WNC but that was about it. I continued to race on roads but often found myself injured. Somewhere between six or seven stress fractures in my tibia later, I realized something had to change. I was missing out on lots of training for months at a time while I healed. So I dedicated even more miles of training to trails and ignored that I needed to run strictly on roads to have my legs “hardened” for road racing. There is some truth to that but definitely not worth it if you are injured all the time. To my surprise what little road racing I continued to do, I only got better. Soon more trails races were popping up all over the area so I sought those out. I found that being healthy and able to run day in and day out was now possible mostly due to the friendly soft surfaces of the trail.
After a couple Shut In trail races later I very rarely raced on the roads anymore. The lure of wanting to do longer trail races led me towards ultra marathons. Most ultra marathons are on trails so even though the distance and time on your feet is greater, the post recovery is an easier process than the road marathon. Having stated my love for running on trails, I do still enjoy some road miles for many reasons. I’ll delve into the pros and cons of trail running vs. road running for my next post. Running on trails or roads has become quite a touchy subject these days, much like one’s political party affiliation. Each side believes their party – surface is the better one and most seem to have a partisan viewpoint. I’ll try to prove each side’s worthiness, however in the end there can be only one victor!