Leaving It All Out On the Road. Or Trail

I am one of those runners who loves both trail and road races. There are benefits and drawbacks to each. In this post, I will attempt to explain the differences between the two.

Meditations in Motion

  • In road racing, there are (usually) no bib transfers. You must sometimes present a photo ID to pick up your race bib. Selling or giving your bib to another runner is strictly forbidden and will result in dire penalties. This is to prevent cheating.
  • In trail racing, transferring your bib to someone else (if there are no age group awards) is no biggie. As one race director says in his emails “No one is qualifying for Boston here.

Meditations in Motion

  • In road races, the course is accurate to the nearest ten-thousandth of a meter, painstakingly wheel-measured using the tangents at every corner.
  • In trail races, the course may be a mile or so longer than the advertised distance. Trail race directors love to give you your money’s worth.

Meditations in Motion

  • Speaking of money, registration fees for big-city marathons can run several hundred dollars.
  • The cost of a trail race is sometimes as low as $1 per kilometer. Some are no-frills, no whining, free races called fatasses.

Meditations in Motion

  • In a road race, you aim for negative splits, powering up the hills and using gravity to help you speed up on the downhills.
  • In a trail race, some hills are so steep and long you are extremely happy if you can just get to the top without stopping to bend over, hands on your knees, to catch your breath. Some downhills are so precipitous they cause you to bounce from one tree to the next, hanging on to each one for dear life so you don’t fall off the side of the hill.

Meditations in Motion

  • In road races, there are porta-potties at the aid stations.
  • In trail races, there are trees. Lots and lots of trees. And bushes. You quickly learn what kind of leaves are your friends.

Meditations in Motion

  • Hydration at road races consists of water and Gatorade dispensed at each aid station.
  • Hydration at trail races may include water and Gatorade. Also root beer, Coke, Mountain Dew, beer, Fireballs, Jello shots, and Fireball Jello shots.

Meditations in Motion

  • At longer road races, some aid stations may give out gel packets for nutrition. For those of you who are not runners, gel is a slimy, gross, sickeningly sweet substance that you choke down during a race to get some much-needed energy. It may contain caffeine. You would never, ever, ever eat it in any other situation.
  • At trail races, aid stations give out candy, cookies, crackers, pretzels, chips, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, pierogies, grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches, hot broth, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and watermelon. Watermelon dispensed at trail races is the best tasting watermelon in the world. At one 20-mile trail race,  volunteers lugged a huge kettle, oil, potatoes, and a propane heater into the woods so they could serve runners fresh, hot French fries during their run.
  • One memorable moment from a road race came almost 12 years ago during a marathon in Eugene, Oregon. A few months before, I had been very ill. Just before Thanksgiving, the virus that typically causes mononucleosis attacked my liver. I couldn’t go to work or run for several weeks. Shortly before Christmas, as I was beginning to recover, my mom died. I was thrown for a loop.

When I finally tried running again, in January, I could barely go half a mile. Running was my therapy that spring. In May, on what would have been my mom’s birthday weekend, we arrived in Eugene.

My husband ran the half marathon, my son, who was in graduate school in Oregon at the time, ran the 5K, and I ran the marathon.

At mile 25 of the race, I saw my husband standing next to the course. Bill, after running his own race, came out to run the last mile of the marathon with me. He was such a welcome sight, I wanted to cry.

I qualified for Boston that year with about two minutes to spare and we all embraced in a group hug at the finish line.

  • A memorable moment in a trail race occurred at Phunt, my favorite, a few years ago. There are often humorous signs along the course, like the one about Chuck Norris in the picture above.

One year, I saw a sign that read “Someday, you will not be able to do this“. Maybe it’s because of my age, but the poignant message of that sign caused me to tear up. “It’s true,” I thought, “Someday, I will be too old, too injured, too infirm to do trail races.

Then I saw the next sign “…But today is not that day!

Yes!” I thought “Enjoy the moment.” And I did.

Both types of races give us the chance to make wonderful memories. I plan to do them until I absolutely can’t any longer.


You can find the places I link up here.





  1. What a great summary! I didn’t even know that you’re allowed to pass on your bib to another runner in trail races.
    Love your two memories. Let’s hope we’re all able to do all this running for many more years to come!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So true – we don’t know what the next day will bring – so do enjoy the moment. We used to walk long distances and are no longer able to do so – but walk as far as we can and are simply grateful we can still be out walking – blessings Lois

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post is perfect timing! I’m dipping my toes into the water of trail running and I’m loving it so far. It’s such a nice change of pace (pun intended) from road running. I don’t intend to give up road running, but I’m going to do both. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for pointing out the not-so-subtle differences Laurie … I can see why you prefer the trail races and this comment made me chuckle: “In trail races, there are trees. Lots and lots of trees. And bushes. You quickly learn what kind of leaves are your friends.” Just go before you leave the house and watch out for the poison ivy!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t speak (or write LOL) with a lot of expertise, but I have done a fair share of trail races. I find they are liberating! The pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to PR is out the window because the terrain and technical aspects don’t invite careless abandon. Besides, they’re usually in a beautiful setting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have fallen plenty of times on the trail. Fortunately, none of the falls were serious. One of the things I had to learn at first was to just slow down and run with my feet farther apart (wider base) than when I run on the roads.


    • What? That is so funny – you train on the trails, but race on the roads. I agree with you about less pressure in a trail race. Fewer expectations. One of the reasons I love them.


  6. I like a mix of trail and road, though I’ve ventured away from trail a little bit after the broken leg just because my ankle stability wasn’t there, but I’m hopeful to be back to it in the near future.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just ran trails today with a friend and we noted how much ankle strength is needed to cover rocky terrain. As you get older, your ankle strength is one of the first to go. That’s why older runners tend to shuffle. I started swimming laps with swim fins (not using my arms at all to strengthen my ankles.


  7. I love running in the woods but on my own terms – no race for me. I’ve done it a couple of times and I just don’t enjoy being out in the wilderness on my own (I’m usually in the back / last). I can appreciate why trail runners do it though. I am much more of a road runner. I think if you are a slower runner and you accept it and embrace that you are able to do it (agree with the sign!) then it can be just as laid back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For some reason (maybe because I started out as a road runner) I have trouble letting go of speed expectations when I run on the road. When I run trail races, I have no expectations. I think that’s why they seem so laid back to me.


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