The trail racing vibe

A laid back start line

A laid back start line

When I did my 25k last week, it wasn’t my first exposure to trail racing, but I am still fairly new to it. Coming from a long-term road racing background, the differences in the two environments really stand out to me. To sum it up in a nutshell, trail racing provides a much more low-key, laid back environment. To nit-pick it out, though, here are the differences I notice between the two:

  • Trail runners aren’t there for the swag, but rather the experience. My $35 entry to the 25k (bargain!) included a couple of aid stations and a finisher’s medal. That’s it. 
  • Trail runners are a bit more self sufficient. Where road racers are wont to complain about a shortage of aid stations and what they offer at those stations, trail runners come with their own water and fuel, choosing sometimes to simply bypass the aid stations. Note–I learned a lesson on this one, wishing I had brought my own water as the aid stations at Rosaryville were indeed pretty far spread out.
  • Trail runners expect a little bit extra or a little bit less in terms of the promised mileage–and they don’t complain about it. From what I gather, an extra mile or two is pretty common during a trail race and that’s just fine by the participants.
  • There’s not as much nervous energy before a trail race–most people seem to show up pretty close to the start time, relax and get moving when the gun goes. No jockeying for starting positions or worrying about lining up ahead of others.

As you can probably tell, I like this more laid back vibe. I’ve said it before, but I’m really interested in doing more trail racing moving forward. I’m not giving up the road, that’s for sure, but more time on trails and doing trail racing is definitely in the cards for me.

If you’ve done trail races, what difference between the two types of racing did you notice? Preference for one or the other? 

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  1. says

    I’m pretty sure that my 50 is all trail and I can’t imagine that it will be anything but laid back!! This will be my first trail (nothing like jumping right in!!).
    Kim recently posted..A Final RecapMy Profile

  2. says

    That sounds fantastic, and I can see where it’s true just from my training runs on my local trail. I’m not a runner and I have not liked the ‘big’ races that much in terms of vibe; I much prefer triathletes, although we are probably even more uptight. My first half-iron is a trail run at the end, and I’m nervous I will slip a lot, but I’m looking forward to the fact that it is a bit shaded and softer.
    Ashley @ Twynmawrmom recently posted..You can’t call it a taper when it’s just your normal training week :Weeks 3 & 4 & 5 & beyondMy Profile

    • MissZippy says

      This made me laugh b/c I come from a triathlon background..when I switched to running my first thought was that runners are much more laid back than triathletes!

  3. says

    Another big difference is that someone almost always gets lost. I really love both types of races. For roads, I’m serious about paces. For trails, I’m serious about my Oreos and my photography. I’m running a trail 50K in a few weeks and it is gonna be so pretty :)
    Karen@ La Chanson de Ma Vie recently posted..Last Week: July 21-27My Profile

  4. says

    My trail racing experience is limited to one awesome 5k, although I want (and plan!) to do more – but I enjoyed the serenity aspect. No music played on course and less participants meant no crowding or worrying about tripping over someone (only worry – tripping over some”thing” on the ground!). I love the excitement of road races, they are like one big party. But I also found I loved the calm of trail running.
    Kaitie recently posted..Meal Planning and Prepping for OneMy Profile

  5. says

    I have been volunteering for a trail race series this summer and been doing a little trail running/racing before I got injured. There is a different mindset between road racers and trail racers and you hit most of them right on the head. I enjoy going to a trail race, whereas I still get pretty anxious about a road race.

    Trail racing is more about me against the trail and other runners are much more willing to help each other along. When I do a road race it is me against the clock and the other runners.

    Enjoy the woods and trails :-).
    Harold recently posted..Limitations and a 6.2 Mile Run 7-29-13My Profile

  6. says

    I have done both and love trail racing. As I top off speed as a goal for marathons hopefully this year, I plan to move towards more trail/ultras. I find that the people n the trail racing circuit are really friendly, dare I say more friendly than road racers. I love that the clothes don’t match and a lot of the runners look like hippies. I find you see the same people over and over again on the trail circuit and it becomes more comfortable over time as well. All in all they are just awesome great fun.
    Robin recently posted..Photo ShootMy Profile

    • MissZippy says

      You are exactly where I am…hoping to finish off with marathon PRs and start gravitating toward ultras!

  7. says

    I certainly prefer trail running and you are spot on with your observations. I also find road runners don’t like getting their shoes dirty and complain if the race includes dirt road or gravel or water.
    Johann recently posted..I’m 50 and Blessed!My Profile

  8. says

    I’ve been trail running and racing exclusively for the last two years, and I absolutely love it! Trail races are almost always more challenging than a road race of the same distance. We expect our times to be much slower. PR’s also are less important because every course is so different terrain-wise that there’s really no way to compare times between two trail races of the same distance.

    I love trail running because of the peace and tranquility I feel running in the woods and the sense of adventure I feel every time I set out on a new route!
    Leah @ Running with the Hayneses recently posted..‘Dream Dinners’ on a BudgetMy Profile

  9. says

    The only trail races I have done are mud runs and so it is not quite the same. However, I will be doing my first trail half marathon in August and I am really looking forward to it!

  10. says

    I definitely prefer the trails. For people that are nervous about trying a trail race, I’d suggest seeking out one of The North Face Endurance Challenges – all the benefits of trail running, with road race swag, shirts, and expo – very well run events.
    Kovas – Midwest Multisport Life recently posted..Marathon TrainingMy Profile

  11. says

    I love this and love hearing about the differences. My sense is just that trail runners are more laid back and nice – no idea where I got this impression. I think that I would like the laid back vibe if just because of the stark contrast with the craziness of running in NYC!!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..The 7 ChakrasMy Profile

  12. Holly says

    I have done 3 trail races – various distances and have loved each one. I agree with the differences you point out. The thing that I find hard is being able to trail run for training. We have many trails around my city but the bulk of my running is in the wee morning hours by myself so they are pretty much out of the question during the week. I would love to see a trail safety post…hint, hint.

  13. says

    I love running trails – I just don’t race on them. I guess I might eventually, for the laid-back atmosphere. But if I’m out there on the weekend, there are plenty of runners and a sense of community anyway. I might do one of the community-organised ultras one day, but right now my goal is a little different – to see how fast I can be on the road if I train seriously. :)
    Grace recently posted..Blasts from the pastMy Profile

  14. says

    The start always cracks me up because it tends to be so anticlimatctic. I went to watch some of the Rock Raccoon 100 a couple years ago and felt like I was at a running Woodstock! LOL
    Adrienne recently posted..ChallengeMy Profile

  15. says

    I’ve love trail racing. I’ve only done a few, but I have noticed that you are right on in your description (which reminded me of a funny one about the differences between road and mountain cyclists). I think part of the reason for the relaxed mode is that there isn’t really a way to measure your effort by time. The terrain makes such a difference, and all you can do is go out and do your best.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..2 Vegan Recipes + Nasoya Vegan Nayonaise + a Giveaway!My Profile

  16. says

    Definitely more laid back at trail races, everyone seems more “zen” I guess at the start. I like that but I’ve said it before- I love the nerves of the start line, I thrive off of that…I see pros to both styles of racing. I like the consistency of knowing the distance of road races, but I like the easy atmosphere at trail events.
    Laura recently posted..One Day at a TimeMy Profile

  17. says

    Trail running and racing is the best. Especially for someone like me that will never be very fast. The atmosphere and people have also been great at every trail race I’ve tried so far.
    David recently posted..Xterra Snow ValleyMy Profile

  18. says

    I find that about trail races too! The first couple I ran I was so embarrassed about my time (because they were more than significantly worse than my road times) and thought I was a horrible trail racer —until I realized trail races are not the exact distance they claim..just a rough estimate! And it is a lot less stress/nerves. I enjoy them because its all about the running!
    Jenn @ Runnderlust recently posted..Motivation Monday: Keys to a Successful Fall Season, via high schoolers.My Profile

  19. Debbie @ Deb Runs says

    I agree that trail races seem much more laid back than road races. I’ve done halves, fulls, and ultras on trails and they’ve all been very laid back. I wonder if it’s the fact that there are fewer runners in those races or if it’s the type of people that choose trail running that are more laid back? Or perhaps the scenery and being one with nature has a calming effect on everyone running! :-)

  20. says

    I was just talking about this with another runner the other day! I LOVE the laid back trail race vibe – less junk (sorry I don’t need 93,287 coupons in a swag bag), there are potato chips and PBJ’s at the pit stops, and the people are so humble! Last fall I did a half marathon trail race and the winner slipped & broke his wrist at mile 3 and led the entire race finishing a mile before everyone else! CRAZY!
    Sheila recently posted..For the Love of BikesMy Profile

  21. says

    All that you mentioned and I have experienced. My favorite part is the last one. So relaxed at the start. Plus, trail races typically are much smaller, so there isn’t the crazy crowd that i’m used to at some of the road races in the NYC area!

  22. says

    Leadville was my first experience with ‘real’ trail racing where I soaked up the vibe. Agree with all of your points. In talking with the hardcore ultra runners, theres also somewhat ofa disdain for roadracers.

  23. says

    Amanda, I just ran my first trail race last Saturday – Angel Island 25k. I, too, am doing MAF training and I took a break for this run. It was amazing!! I have only done 2 half marathons before this race, road races. It was definitely a different experience, but one I want to experience more of. I love getting out on the trails.
    Patty V recently posted..SF and MAF Training . . . A gift!!My Profile

  24. says

    Out here, most trail races are also extremely hilly. Typical for a marathon to be more than 5000′ of up/down.

    That plus the fuzzy distance metrics and varied footing mean you just can’t compare your time on one course to another.

    You can compare runs of the same course however….

    I find even pacing in these crazy hilly races impossible. Many marathons are two loops of a half and often the 2nd is 40 min slower than the first (or more!)

    It’s really a totally different sport…you can’t be so crazy anal about pacing..and there’s a lot more beautiful things to see..etc.
    Paul recently posted..Summer running and new shoes.My Profile