Road Races vs Trail Races

Looking to make the transition from road races to trails? Or maybe the other way around? Whether you’re training to pound pavement or hit the dirt for the first time, here’s a look at what differences you can expect so there are no surprises on race day!

The Crowds

Road Races: If you enjoy feeding off the energy of others, road races is where it’s at! Hundreds, sometimes thousands of runners pile into corrals or crowd behind the start line. Volunteers and bystanders line the streets to cheer you on. 

Trail Races: If you prefer a more laid back race experience, the crowds are much smaller at trail races. And when you’re left in the wilderness with only one-two runners around you, you’ll be sure to cross the finish line with some new running friends.


Road Races: At road races, you’ll find your standard distances--5k, 10k, Half Marathon, and Marathon. Participants become hyper-focused on making sure the course is correct down to a few meters. Flat races fill up fast for those seeking PRs or to BQ. Hilly courses draw runners looking for a challenge.

Trail Races: On the trails you’ll find an 8k, 20k, 40k, 66k--the distances vary wildly. And the hills are plentiful. Trail courses tend to lead you along a single-track trail up the mountains and are more technical. Your pace will be slower than a road race, as the trails can be more challenging. But the finish line becomes that much more rewarding.


Road Races: Most road races take you through neighborhoods or paved trails in local parks. While the scenery at these can sometimes be mediocre, there are plenty of road races with spectacular scenery. But great scenery comes with a cost--be ready for some hills!

Trail Races: Since most trail races take runners through and UP mountains and parks, you’ll find spectacular scenery at these events. Don’t get too caught up looking down at your feet. Take a few moments to take in the views when you can!

The Aid Stations

Road Races: You’ll find huge groups of volunteers handing out water, electrolytes and sometimes gel packets. Depending on the race, some may even be themed.

Trail Races: The volunteers may be less at these aid stations, but the real difference is the food! Some trail races (especially those with ultra distances) will offer a buffet of everything from candy and soda to boiled potatoes and salt.


Road Races: Road runners tend to be minimalist runners. Shorts, a tank, maybe some headphones and a GPS watch. Usually just a handheld (or.. ~cough~.. The Hydraquiver Single Barrel or Double Barrel) for hydration.

Trail Races: Trail runners can become pack rats. They’re on the trails for longer and will carry extra layers, fuel, hydration, and more. You’ll find them running in gear like the Vest Pack or Endurance Pack.

The Runners

Road Races: All runners are friendly. Though finish times and PRs can dominate a road runner’s focus. They may become serious and focused once the gun goes off. But don’t worry, they’ll be all smiles and high-fives once you meet them at the finish.

Trail Races: Trail runners are basically super-friendly mountain goats. They’ll run with a slice a pizza in one hand, a beer in the other, and chat with you all along the way.

Regardless of which type of race you’re branching out to, there’s an amazing running experience waiting for you that you won’t soon forget. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the adventure. Good luck and happy running!


Guest Blogger: 

Jeremy Heath of #TheDirtUnit Elite 

IG: @runner_blogger_az