Illustration by Wade Mickley

88% say yes

Trails are about releasing the spirit, not simply training the body. I run “on” the road; I run “with” the trail. There is no activity more primal than running in the woods. It reminds me that we are animals. When I run on the road, my legs and lungs are the most engaged parts of my body. When I run on a trail, I watch for rocks, roots, snakes, deer, and changes in the lay of the land. I smell wet leaves and pine resin. Trail running engages my whole body; it makes it sharper and looser. When I run on the road, I’m being dutiful and dedicated. When I run on a trail, I am wild and free.
—Chris Alexander, Davidson, N.C.

Adventure in the rugged outdoors always trumps the challenges that lay ahead on polished urban landscapes. Nothing beats being enveloped by the living forest, then feeling the raw earth crunching and shifting below, and inhaling the fresh oxygen rushing in to relieve overworked, burning lungs. However, road sports get more attention because spectators can watch them easier—plopping down beside the road or in front of their TV.
—Jonathan Poston, Asheville, N.C.

Leaving the stresses of a job and society for a few minutes—whether it be on a mountain bike or on foot—gives me a connection to something greater than any human can build. Most trails that I visit on a regular basis run with the topography of the land and provide a greater physical challenge than simply running or biking on asphalt.
—Clint Ivester, Dallas, Ga.

While being better for your overall physical self, trail sports also provide a better, safer atmosphere. They are primitive and enriching. We should appreciate our forests and trails while they’re still there, because they are being assaulted by development and commerce on all fronts.
—Nikki McDuffee, Stanardsville, Va.

I have run several road marathons over the years, and I have found that my knees and other joints aren’t as receptive to the pounding they must take on the asphalt. What running I do now is on trails. The ground has a lot more give, and the scenery is much nicer.
—Karl Kunkel, High Point, N.C.

I prefer to run and mountain bike on trails away from fuel-burning vehicles. Inhaling those fumes can’t be good for my health. A road run or ride may do more harm than good to my lungs.
—Torrey Coffey, Loganville, Ga.

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12% say no

While I enjoy the solitude of running in the woods, I have more fun during the experience of larger road races. At some of my favorites, like the Army 10-Miler in Washington, D.C., and the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, tens of thousands of runners congregate in a single spirit. The energy is amazing at these bigger races, and I feel like I am attending a festival. It takes my mind off the physical challenges of the distance and lets me just enjoy being a runner.
This is what running is all about—going out and having a great time with some like-minded people. It’s also fun to get the encouragement of huge cheering crowds and take in the sights, including many of our country’s greatest historical landmarks. The best way to see a city is on foot with thousands of running friends.
—Rick Moore, Alexandria, Va.

I rely on road sports for exercise—mostly out of convenience. I need to run after long days at work to clear my head and relieve stress, but living in a city doesn’t give me the luxury of being able to quickly access a secluded wooded trail. The urban jungle certainly has its disadvantages—inconsiderate drivers, smog, and a lack of scenery—but I’ll take it over the confines of a stuffy, overpriced gym.
—Mary Graves, Atlanta, Ga.

I’d rather head to the track than the trail. For me, running is all about speed and pushing myself to my absolute limits. I love to see how fast I can sprint, and I just can’t do that on trails with a lot of rocks and roots. The same goes for races. I just can’t post a PR on a rugged mountain course, so I stick to the pavement where I can satisfy my need for speed.
—Adam Harvey, Charleston, S.C.