The trail racing vibe

Sydney5 006 300x225 The trail racing vibe

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. I love the laid back vibe at trail races! So true that no one freaks out if their Garmin says the course was .2 miles longer/shorter than it’s supposed to be. Heck, why even bother with a Garmin…you probably won’t find a signal anyway! I definitely see some trail ultras in my future!
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  2. I like it! I have never actually done a trail race but I’ll take laid-back over nerves any day. Thanks for the tips…
    Allie recently posted..FITNESS QUESTIONS ANSWERED! A QuestionnaireMy Profile

  3. 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

  4. I’ve never done any trail races but I use to trail run every weekend when I lived back in WI. I’ve been saying I am going to do more trails (REAL trails) but I need to stop signing up for all of these races first! ;)

    Love this post!
    Cori @ olivetorun recently posted..To Inspire Others Is IncredibleMy Profile

  5. 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.
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    • 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!

  6. 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

  7. Sounds great to me. I think this environment would suit me way better. I like trails but have never done a race.

  8. Since my first trail race is Saturday (super excited about that btw) I can’t really do a big comparison yet. Registration alone was different (cheap) and small field allowed (max is 150). I’m thinking I might love it!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..July 2013 in ReviewMy Profile

  9. I love the sense of adventure in a trail race – they are usually in stunning locations and you never know what surprises are in store for you. I am convinced the best runner’s high’s are off-road!
    Sherry recently posted..Trail Running in the CityMy Profile

  10. I’m thinking I may need to try a trail race, just for the experience… hopefully not ending up in the ER with a twisted ankle after though!
    People prob assume a PR is not going to happen on a trail race so they just run- probably a good lesson to learn!
    emma @ a mom runs this town recently posted..Little Moments Like ThatMy Profile

  11. 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.
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  12. 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 :-).
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  13. for me I think the trail would feel more like FREEDOM and adventure than the road run.
    Miz recently posted..Is old talk the new fat talk?My Profile

  14. I’m fascinated by the differences between trail and road runners. Trail runners are nicer. Not that street runners aren’t nice but trail runners go out of their way to be supportive and encouraging. I never thought I would say this but I think I would pick a trail race/run over streets.
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  15. 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.
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    • MissZippy says:

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

  16. I’m guessing there are fewer spectators? I haven’t done one, but I like to run on trails in the summer.
    AmyC recently posted..Hula Hustle 10KMy Profile

  17. Interesting.

    Personally, I would be far more edgy at a trail race because WOODS! WILD ANIMALS! We really don’t have too many places around here where there is the opportunity to run a trail, so I guess it’s for the best. :)
    Jenn recently posted..something new & prepping for a night raceMy Profile

  18. In florida, I shy away from trails – panthers, and bears, and snakes, and gators (etc etc) oh my!
    Kat recently posted..Prepping for #AugustCoreFocus + Sponsored prize updates!My Profile

  19. Trail runners seem more supportive and kind! Haha. No one will take you out an aid station because they are so worried about their time. They’ll just take the time to chat with you! :)
    abbi recently posted..Miles and Mutts FundraisingMy Profile

  20. 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

  21. 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!
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  22. Interesting. I’ve never run a true trail race before, but it’s definitely on my list of things to try!
    Mandy recently posted..Training Tuesday: 3 weeks remainMy Profile

  23. The only trail type racing I’ve ever done is Spartan :)
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  24. Gosh, I haven’t done any trail races since high school cross country, but boy do I miss them! (Although being off on the mileage would kind of peeve me, but all else is good!)
    Tiff @ Love, Sweat, & Beers recently posted..Balanced WIAWMy Profile

  25. 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!

  26. 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

  27. I haven’t run in any trail races… yet. I do run trails at least once a week though; the local state park is five minutes from my house and offers many different trails and choices. I will definitely be looking for some trail races, the laid back vibe sounds nice.
    Madelyn @ Reading Runner Girl recently posted..August Core Focus ChallengeMy Profile

  28. 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

  29. I’ve done one trail 1/2 and even though the heat and course were killer, I loved the atmosphere!
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  30. 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.

  31. 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. :)
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  32. I love the laid back vibe that you talk about. After I get a couple more big races (hopefully Boston 2014 and I’m already in for NYC 2014), then I hope to work some trail races into the schedule.
    Beth @ Miles and Trials recently posted..Runners with Multiple SclerosisMy Profile

  33. 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

  34. I cannot run on trails! I am always so scared I am going to trip, fall and break something!
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  35. 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.
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  36. There seems to be more camaraderie on the trails too. I guess that goes with the laid back vibe.
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  37. 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

  38. trail running is the BEST. I pick that over road running/racing any day of the week.
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  39. I love that people will just chit chat with you while trail racing. People are still competitive, but the competition feels more friendly.
    Yo Momma Runs recently posted..Welcoming home the hurtMy Profile

  40. 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.
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  41. 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!
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  42. I tend to prefer the more laid back races. That is the nice thing about races in Spokane- they are all laid back and super cheap. Most 5ks are only $10-15 and I think the Spokane Marathon is less than $40 if you register early enough.
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  43. 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! :-)

  44. You nailed it. So funny, right? Did you learn the fold your bib to just show your numbers move? Pin it to your shorts? Ya, funny bunch, but MORE than enough dollar for dollar.
    Pavement Runner recently posted..Run This Year: August ChallengeMy Profile

  45. One day, I’ll try a trail run! It’s worth the relaxed race feel, I’m sure.
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  46. Very cool! I’ve never raced trails, but I have run them – there’s something very laid back about it. I’m all Type A and very much about the road race, but there’s something to be said for a gorgeous trail run.
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  47. 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!
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  48. I am fairly new to trail running as well, but have crewed for friends who have done ultras on trails and I love the vibe. People are there to run and that really comes through in the atmosphere.
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  49. 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!

  50. 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.

  51. I’ve never done a trail race, or a real trail run for that matter! I did get the vibe from other blogs and people on Twitter though that trail running and racing is much more relaxed. I need to try it!
    Kristen @ The Running Mom recently posted..More heart rate training and a new chapterMy Profile

  52. 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.
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  53. I have never done a trail race but they look and sound fun.
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  54. I’ve learned to become more a part of my environment on the trails that I ever did on the road. Road racing is about time, trail running is connecting with your surroundings.
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  55. 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.
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