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Trail vs Road

You know the banter… road runners vs trail runners. Trail runners are hikers, road runners are sheep. Trail runners are too slow for road, road runners aren’t cool enough for trail. Mountain enthusiasts often claim allergy to tar, and road runners laugh at the gear that trail runners drag around with them.

But as US pro runner, Devon Yanko recently said on social media:

“Guess what? Being fit is fun. Whether you choose road or trail, flat or vert, chasing goals that get you excited is what is important. There are different disciplines and challenges in the sport of running, but none is superior. Instead, each is a unique invitation to push yourself. Want to run up a mountain? Yes. Want to know your fastest 5km? Yes. Want to finish a 100 miler? It is the same, yes. This is running. This is OUR playground.”

Devon has been out to South Africa for both trail and road running events, and is likely to crack yet another gold at Comrades this year. She has also been on the podium at the Western States 100miler – oldest trail race in the books. Oh, and have you heard? Sage Canaday, based in the US and a well-known elite mountain ultra-runner, is lining up for Comrades 2019 too! You read it here first, folks.


In fact, the different disciplines complement one another. Trail running can actually help preparation for a road race. You'll develop stronger stabilizers to reduce your risk of injury. The uneven terrain of a trail works stabilizer muscles in your hips, core, and ankles that you may not be exercising on the roads. And vice versa… If a trail runner spends one to two days per week running on the road and on the track doing interval workouts, they will without a doubt see faster times in races. Taking a step away from the trail allows that runner to pick up the pace a little and work on turnover. Typically, runners have their best form when running fast. They get off their heels and lean forward and, therefore, running fast can help remind runners (if not gently reinforce) how to run with more efficient form.


Good coaches recommend a variety of work outs. Hill sets, rolling trail, scrambles, long slow runs, speed work, even grass sprints. A rounded, more robust athlete is an adaptable one.

So, back to that banter. Pride comes, as they say, before a fall. And no runner enjoys a fall! Trail enthusiasts, don’t waste precious breath knocking the efforts of your road counterparts. Instead, invite yourself to their training runs and document how the deviation from your usual peak-tagging missions makes you a better trail runner. And roadies, grab a bit of wisdom from your trail running community. Join their (beginner) missions and take note of the overall improvement in your strength and hill running ability. 

We are runners. Some of us in poly shorts and vests, some in funky pants, some in skirts and some in tights. Some of us look like we’re throwing back to the days of disco balls, some appear to be heading to a neon party, and there are even those who seem regularly to forget certain items, such as their shirts, in the middle of winter. But, we’re all running. And long may that be our focus.

Words: Kim Stephens