By Scott Schneider

“When you run on the earth and with the earth, you can run forever.”  – Raramuri Proverb

The sport of trail running has grown from a fringe endeavor to a mainstream pursuit with a cult following. Christopher McDougall’s “Born To Run” and Scott Jurek’s “Eat & Run” have helped popularize ultra-marathons and trail running. There’s something special about running in the woods, mountains, and deserts that has pushed both runners and the sport further physically and mentally than our overused friend pavement.

While you don’t have to run ultra-marathons or be “hard core” to trail run, you’ll find this sport attracts those who embrace the philosophy that people thrive when challenged. Here are five reasons why you should join the trail-running movement.


Trail running is a better workout than running on the road. The varied terrain provides a wider range of heart rates and engages more stabilizing muscles. It is also easier on your body and knees because the trail helps absorb some of the impact.


Trail running gives you an escape from technology and the daily grind in a way in which road running falls short. It is an unwritten trail ethic that you run “unplugged.” The multitude of birds, bugs, and wildlife sights and sounds are good for the soul and superior to even the best iPod workout mix.


As your interest and mileage grow in trail running, so will your adventures. Since trails are often located in beautiful spots, you’ll be researching new areas and looking at maps of local, state, and national parks in preparation for your next run. You’ll find yourself running in and traveling to these wild places few people utilize.


There’s something deeply meditative about trail running. Road running offers a glimpse into this state, but it is harder to consistently achieve this state of flow. Moving over technical terrain forces you to concentrate on every foot placement, your running mechanics, and your breathing. It encourages a mind-body connection where your body adapts to the trail and follows the path of least resistance. The solitude and the environment inherent in the sport of trail running enable you to become fully engaged in the process of running and reflecting.


The trail-running community is a unique group who view getting dirty, muddy, wet, scraped and bruised as badges of honor, not something to be avoided. These folks think a marathon isn’t the revered distance to test one’s mettle; rather, an ultra-marathon of 50k, 50 miles, or 100 miles is the ultimate test. Yet the trail-running community openly welcomes anyone wanting to be in nature, seeking an adventure and pursuing an improved self.

Scott Schneider is a lecturer of outdoor leadership at NC State University’s Department of Health and Exercise Studies. He is an avid trail runner and teaches courses in rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking and backpacking.