Once upon a time, running a trail race was an activity reserved for a small, extreme subset of the distance running community. Off-road running has boomed in the new millennium, however. According to the Outdoor Recreation Association, trail running participation in the U.S. more than doubled between 2007 and 2017, from 657,000 to 1.5 million. It’s still dwarfed by road racing, though: More than 18 million people registered for road races in 2017, according to Running USA. So what are you trail runners waiting for? Here are five reasons to run a trail race in 2019.
There’s no hiding in a road race or on the track. Spectators watch from the sidelines, yelling and ringing cowbells. Mile splits and finish times are measured to the fraction of a second and easily compared (for better or worse) to past performances. Run a few seconds off your 5K PR and you’re left wondering what went wrong. Trail races don’t come with all that baggage. Slip into the silent woods and you and the other competitors will be alone with your thoughts and the sounds of gasping breaths and pounding feet. Mile splits and finish times are irrelevant in a sport where 1 mile in the hills outside Greater Boston has little in common with 1 mile in the mountains of New Hampshire. Enjoy the simplicity of the physical challenge without worrying about anything else.
Think you know a trail intimately? Try running at a slightly faster pace than normal. Nothing turns a hill into a mountain faster than shaving a few extra seconds off of each mile. Especially as winter slowly gives way to spring, with some of the region’s mountains still weeks or months from being runnable, a challenging local trail race is a good way to dive into the new season.
Mud, sweat, and mountains make for dramatic, Instagram-ready photos. Better yet, post them, along with GPS data, to the endurance sports social media site Strava and everyone can see each painful vertical foot you climbed.
Even the most popular trail races can’t compete with road race field sizes. While nearly 30,000 runners will compete in April’s Boston Marathon, you’re more likely to find a few hundred—or even just a few dozen—competitors at a trail race. That means those age-group awards are wide open! Whether it’s trophies, medals, beer steins, farm-fresh produce… or just bragging rights, you’ve got a much better shot at returning home with some hardware.
Is there a simpler joy than sprinting through a forest or field? What’s a trail race if not a sprint into the past, when you and your friends chased each other around for fun? So get out there this year and reclaim that feeling.