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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Distance Between the Road and the Trail

Most things in life produce some sort of competitive atmosphere. The college I went to is better than your college. Pepsi is better than Coke. The Marine Corps is better than the Army (this one is totally true).

The big argument with distance runners comes down to this: roads versus trails.

Typical Road Marathon
Typical Trail Ultramarathon
If you are wondering which I prefer, then you're
probably new to my blog...

I will tell you up front my experience with both... I have 7 full road marathons under my belt to go along with 10 trail ultramarathons that ranged from 50 kilometers to 77 miles. Between both, I have run in 5 different states, in every season, in quite a few weather patterns, and been witness to a fairly diverse sampling of race-day factors.

Lets start with road running... the pros and cons.

Road Runnin'
 The Good...
  • Most races and even training runs can be easily measured.
    • Marathons are 26.2 miles, ALWAYS.
    • MapMyRun, Google Maps and similar apps are very accurate.  
Don't Lie. I Know Some of You
Thought This Was a Radio Station.
  • Road races tend to have better organization, websites, chip timing.
  • Location, location, location.
    • Marathons are everywhere, from major cities to small towns, all year long.
    • You won't likely get lost trying to get to a race... and probably won't get lost during the
      race either. 
 The Bad...
  • I hope you like an audience. Some marathons get well over 20,000 participants and even more spectators.
  • Traffic and parking. Trying to get to downtown *fill in any city or town here* is a clusterfuck when there are thousands of people trying to go to the same event as you are. Even if you live in the town, it's quite a challenge at 5:30 am.
    And Now You Know Why
    The Results Page Has a "Chip Time" and
    a "Gun Time".

The Ugly...
  • As friendly as my fellow runners are, when you're in a crowd, people are simply rude.    
    • People run with headphones, oblivious to everything around them, including you.
    • Farting, spitting, vomiting, and releasing other bodily fluids is way worse in a crowd.
    • You'd think you were in a church service by the way people avoid conversation.
  • "Concrete Jungle" isn't how I'd describe an ideal running venue. Some cities look better than others, but I like my smog to oxygen ratio a little less one-sided.    
Good Luck Finding
the Finish Line!
Trail Runnin'
The Good...
  • Intimacy is a thing to cherish. Few, if any, ultramarathons get to a 1000 participants. Many races will even have just a hundred or less. You can literally run hours without seeing a single person.
  • You will be running places that few people ever see. The views will be amazing, the wildlife will be out, and you will love every second of it (unless aaforementioned wildlife attacks!).
  • Trail running is easier on the joints... dirt and leaves don't hurt as bad as concrete and asphalt.
  •   You will meet people who will do anything to make sure you make it the whole way, even if it means they don't reach their time goal. You will make friends on the trail that put your best friend in real life to shame. There is nothing quite like shared suffering.
Getting Killed By a Mountain Lion is Still
a Pro in My Book. Who Wants to Die
In Their Sleep?

 The Bad...
  • Say goodbye to cellphone service, and forget GPS. They probably won't work where we're going.
  • Running through the woods makes it hard to see where you're going. Do your homework or you might find yourself in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre scenario. Trails are harder to mark than streets.
  • Bring a tent or plan on a day that starts at 3am. Hotels are for tourists and businessmen.
Tents are for Lustful Teenagers Who Need
The Ugly...
  • Exponentially greater chance of injury. A trail runner who hasn't been to the hospital in the last 12 months is no trail runner at all.
  • Less standardized. I have run several "50 kilometer" races, and not one of them was 50 kilometers. If you wanted to qualify for Boston, you better get back to the city. No race is the same... even if you ran it the year before.
  • Run enough races and you will get lost. Maybe you won't even be able to find the starting line kind of lost

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