Running is one of the worlds most popular forms of exercise, and it’s easy to see why. It requires no special equipment, it can help you get in shape quickly and it’s a great way to get outdoors.
Human beings evolved to run and survive by traveling long distances on foot, but recent science is proving that running is actually physically addictive. Fortunately, there are many ways to get your running fix.
By far the most popular type of running is recreational jogging. Roughly 20% of the population of the United States, or 1 in 5 people, jog recreationally for fun and exercise. Without the pressure of competition, this can be a great low-stress high reward way to get into a running hobby. In many ways, recreational jogging is the “gateway drug” to a serious running habit, as most people start out here.
After recreational jogging, competition road running is the second most popular type of running. The added competitive element appeals to some, while others just enjoy the camaraderie of a sport that can take place with friends on any urban block.
Whether you’re training for a full marathon, or a community fun run 5K, road running has it’s own challenges. Running on an inflexible surface, such as a paved road, transmits a lot of impact into the body and can result in a whole host of issues. Be careful to increase your mileage slowly to avoid over stressing joints.
In most places in the US, it’s easy to find a smooth paved road, making this sport accessible, but the predictability of a smooth surface and urban scenery doesn’t appeal to everyone. If you’re easily bored, this might not be the best running style for you.
Cross Country Running & Trail Running
Unlike road running, cross country running for those whole crave novelty and change in their surroundings. Courses take you over continuously changing terrain including hills, grass, woodlands and in some cases even some small streams and waterways. Even the distance varies from race to race, with cross country courses ranging between 2 and 8 miles long on average, and trail runs can be just about any distance you choose.
The goal of the course design is to provide varied challenges to your muscles. Pete Magill, a four-time national cross country champion notes that “A well-planned cross country course will do everything possible to disrupt your stride, your pace, and your focus.”
Variable surfaces are a challenge to leg stabilizing muscles which are generally under worked as we move about flat surfaces on sidewalks and in our living rooms. Cross country also helps you up your mental running game, as your brain is constantly adjusting your stride to the terrain.
Trail running shoes, in particular, are designed differently than standard road running shoes. They have rigid soles to protect feet from injuries on uneven surfaces and small stones, and they offer less cushioning than road running shoes because they’re relying on the softer dirt or grass covered trail surfaces to absorb impact.
Ultralight Backpacking & Adventure Running
Taking trail running to the extreme, ultralight backpacking and adventure running involves long distance runs often with extreme elevation gain. Ultralight backpackers are like hikers carrying everything they’ll need to survive in the wilderness, but use specialized ultralight equipment to keep moving as fast as possible.
Adventure running events are generally done without packs, but still happen over very long distances, and may take 24 to 30 hours of running time up and over mountains before a course is completed. Challenges may include extreme conditions with very high or low temperatures depending on the location, as well as low oxygen at high elevation, snow or ice scrabbling and even river crossing. One particularly famous course in Colorado is 100 miles long and includes 34,000 feet of ascent.
Physically, adventure running requires much more from an athlete than the average casual runner is prepared for and may require months or years of special training in preparation. Still, if you enjoy time in nature and the idea of mastering your environment and physically overcoming its challenges appeals to you, then adventure running might be a good fit.
If you’re not all that committed to running in particular and want to stay more rounded in your training, triathlons are a good way to keep running in the mix while training in other areas. For triathletes, running is the third portion of the event, after both swimming and biking. That means that every time you run, you’ll be competing tired, regardless of the total length of the course. Races vary in length from beginner “sprint” distance races with a roughly half mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3-mile run to the iron man triathlon with a nearly 4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26-mile run.
Tower running is a very particular form of running competition that evolved in dense urban environments with access to high rise staircases. In tower running, competitors scale the internal staircases of high rises during specialized timed events. They’re usually held in famous high rises, such as the Empire State Building or similar structures around the world. Clearly, there’s no limit to how far people will go to get their competitive fix and satisfy their running addiction, even in the most crowded urban environment.