Once we get out onto the trails we tend to have a ‘ugh, must I?’ feeling about running on the paved roads. Sure, that’s a generalization, but I feel like I can make it because I’m one of those people. I ran on paved ground rather religiously for many years. From the track in high school to the office building of my first post-college job…every step was run along pavement or well groomed gravel with very few exceptions. I wasn’t exactly a speedster, but you better believe I’d run a block or two past my house just to get that last .06 to tick over on my watch!
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s that I discovered mountain trail running. You know, that rugged trail that looks like death to so many people [myself included, at the time]. I thought mountain runners were insane…mostly because I thought they all RAN up every steep, rocky death trap I spotted while hiking. Turns out that’s not the case, but mountain runners are still a little insane.
Since that first trail run I’ve become a bit obsessed. I signed up for + ran my first trail race [an ultra, no less!] just a few weeks later. This love for the dirt ribbon has been persistent over the past five years — with some serious ebbs + flows, if I’m being honest. I have dabbled in a few road races just to get back into the craze of races with multiple starting corrals, but trails have been my home.
With this transition has come a bit of…disdain?…for running on anything remotely paved. Why would I run on pavement when I was training for a trail race? What did pavement have to offer when I could venture onto trails with badass climbs + descents? Why would I bother with a bike path along a river when I could take a trail to a mountain top? I even went so far as to abandon the prospect of running in favor of a hike…trails where my happy place.
However, trails are not always accessible. Whether it is due to your general location, the trail conditions or the animal activity…sometimes you just can’t get onto trails. But that’s okay!
It turns out that pavement actually has a lot to offer, even if you’re training for a trail race or daydreaming of mountain summits. Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve made a list of proof…
Pavement Helps You Get Faster!
You can run faster on pavement, there is no doubt. If you were given 5 miles of varied trail + 5 miles of smooth pavement it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll be able to pick up more speed on the pavement. This makes pavement great for working on quick leg turnover, sprinted speed work + even hill repeats where you want to focus on the effort, not the fancy footwork.
If you happen to be on a training plan with specific distances listed out for speed-work it is much easier to measure out these distances consistently on pavement. Not to mention the fact speed-work is usually a relatively quick workout. It’s not always worth the extra 30+ minutes of driving just to get to the ‘right’ trail for the workout.
Roads Have Great Views, Too!
Don’t let ‘pavement’ become synonymous for ‘city’. Actually, don’t let ‘road running’ correlate too closely with ‘pounding pavement’ in your mind. Roads come covered in gravel too, ya know! If you can venture away from the urban jungle of the city you’ll find amazing views from the roads you run on. Even if you’re living in a flat state like Nebraska get out on those roads + keep your peepers peeled. You’ll find beauty in the wide open spaces, dancing antelope + windmills if you let yourself.
As for us lucky mountain dwellers — our roads come with views just as stunning as the trails! This is something I need to repeatedly remind myself when ‘shoulder season’ arrives. I want to get on the trails + feel the fresh burst of spring…but I can’t. Mud keeps me off trails more often than anything else — sure, I can get muddy, but my feet splashing through the mud does an immense amount of damage to the trails + I want those trails intact when the mud is gone!
Pavement Is Available…Always.
One of the things we tend to love about the trails is their remoteness. They’re away from the hustle + bustle of the city, the noise of the cars + if we’re lucky, the crowds of civilization. That is part of what makes them great. However, that is also what makes them less accessible. Most people can’t just pop out their backdoor onto a trail.
It’s even harder for runners who work in big cities — you can’t head out on a lunch run along beautifully quiet dirt ribbons or grab a quick post-work run up a mountain. It’s a nice thought, but you’d end up spending more time sitting in traffic than actually running. This is where roads become a beautiful necessity. They are always available to you!
Whether it’s in the middle of a city [seek out bike paths to avoid busy streets + sidewalks], on your drive home [find a park en route + run the gravel trails there!] or at dark o’clock before/after work when you’re chasing street lights [residential areas are great for morning/night running]…pavement is always ready + waiting for you.
It turns out, you don’t need to love pounding pavement or running road races to find value in training along roads. There is value [+ beauty!] in every type of running…you just have to take it on with an open mind + give it a chance!