An athlete runs through a jungle during ultramarathon race in Colombia.
© Marcelo Maragni

10 surprising benefits of trail running

Thinking it's time to mix up your running training? Then hit the trails. Our experts explain why...
Written by Lucy Grewcock
5 min readPublished on
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More fun than tarmac, according to Robbie...

More fun than tarmac, according to Robbie...

© Robbie Britton

Rather than slogging it out on the treadmill, trail runners munch their miles on footpaths and bridleways in the open countryside. And, from managing mental health to giving your bones a break, there’s a lot to be said for swapping the gym or tarmac for mud and grass. We asked three experts, including GB medallist Robbie Britton, why you should give it a go.
Basically it's a lot more fun in the mud, jumping in puddles and running fast in the woods.
Robbie Britton

1. It gives your brain a workout

Tom Evans trail running in Roque Nublo, Gran Canaria

Tom Evans on a trail in Gran Canaria

© Ian Corless / Red Bull Content Pool

Following the ups and downs of a trail gets your brain working in a whole new way. "Rather than switching off or worrying about your day, you have to focus on the moment and the task at hand,” says Team GB ultra-marathon runner Robbie Britton. “On the trails, particularly a more technical route, this can be a real boost for the brain.”

2. It improves every element of your fitness

Trail runner Luka Kovacic of Slovenia runs 5 highest Slovenian Peaks in one run

Luka Kovacic runs 5 highest Slovenian Peaks in one run

© Sinisa Kanizaj / Red Bull Content Pool

Running on trails can be better for your overall fitness than the pavement. Andy Brooks, professional coach at Peak Running explains: “The resistance of running uphill improves leg strength. Uneven ground improves ankle strength, flexibility and balance. Having to vary stride length to deal with roots and rocks improves agility and coordination. Running down steep hills improves leg speed and conditions muscles against impact...” the list goes on. “As well as making you a better runner on the trails, your performance on the road or track will massively benefit. You’ve only got to look at elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners to see this.”

3. It’s great for mental health

trailrunning downhill with Seb Montaz

Amazing landscape to go trailrunning downhill

© Damien Rosso

Running in the great outdoors can aid your mental wellbeing and give you much-needed headspace. "Running wires your serotonin tap to your musculature. It has a positive cognitive function that we are only just beginning to understand,” says Ceri Rees, Founder of Wild Running: “Some of our past clients have suffered from things like depression, and we sometimes get mental health referrals from practitioners who recognise the therapeutic benefits of spending time outdoors.”

4. It will improve your balance

Competitor performs during the Red Bull Robin Hood at Sherwood Pines Forest in Nottingham, UK on November 1st 2014

Find the balance

© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

Twisty tracks, roots and rocks demand more stability than running on roads. To maintain balance, your body naturally engages your core and wakes-up a stack of smaller, stabilizing muscles that rarely get used when you’re on the flat. The result is a fine-tuned sense of balance, better body awareness and beautifully strong abs.

5. You feel like you're on a mini adventure

Ryan Sandes trains before the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in Rotorua, New Zealand

Ryan Sandes trail running in New Zealand

© Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool

"If you want to see beautiful places, find hidden spots right on your doorstep or go on a mini adventure, then get on the trails,” says medallist Robbie Britton. “There's nothing better than getting lost in a muddy forest or running up a hill ‘just because it's there’. Trail running has, and continues to take me to some fantastic places – go find your new favourite trail today!"

6. You won't get bored

Denisa Dragomir of Romania runs during the Fagaras Mountain Challenge

You won't get bored

© Mihai Stetcu / Red Bull Content Pool

Running up and down the same streets day after day can get dull. With trail running, you experience different sights, smells and terrain with every mile. Coach Andy Brooks is all for it: “Even on the same trails, things look different depending on the season, time of day and weather conditions. And, as well as fantastic views, you never know what wildlife you’ll spot along the way.”

7. You will reconnect with nature

Participants perform during the sixth edition of the Wings for Life World Run - App Run in Bad Reichenhall, Germany

You will reconnect with nature

© Jochen Conrad for Wings for Life World Run

Today, more than 80% of UK residents live in urban areas. Trail running gives you an excuse to escape for an hour or so, without the faff of planning a camping trip or a weekend away. “Many of us have a fundamental yearning to reconnect with nature,” says Ceri Rees. “Exercise is a great way to immerse yourself, whether you choose running, climbing, kayaking, adventure racing, or any other sport that gets you out of the urban jungle.”

8. It's not as hard on the body as the pavement

Ryan Sandes trains before the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in Rotorua, New Zealand

It's not as hard on the body as the pavement

© Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool

Grass, mud and earth are kinder to your body than running on tarmac. If you’re already a regular runner, give your bones a break by swapping concrete for the countryside once in a while. If you’re just getting started as a runner, soft surfaces are a gentle way to ease your body in – there's less impact on your bones, and softer trails can also result in less joint pain, and general wear and tear.

9. There's always a sense of achievement

Fernanda Maciel performes at the Red Bull Ridges 2018 on Moleson, Switzerland

It's not as hard on the body as the pavement

© Lorenz Richard / Red Bull Content Pool

Wherever you run, exercise always makes you feel good, but Andy Brooks is adamant that the rewards of trail running are bigger and better. “Regardless of your pace or ability, dealing with hills and tough underfoot conditions or navigational challenges makes you feel that you have done more than just run from A to B. You’ve conquered something,” he says.

10. It's fun

Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel are running the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal

Ryan Sandes has fun in Nepal

© Dean Leslie / Red Bull Content Pool

Let’s be honest. Pounding the pavement can get boring. Trail running, on the other hand, lets you unleash your inner child, get splattered in mud, and yell ‘yee-ha’ at the top of your lungs as you bound downhill. Robbie Britton tells it straight: "Basically it's a lot more fun in the mud, jumping in puddles and running fast in the woods.”