Ever Been Skyrunning? 5 Different Types Of Running To Get You Moving

Simplicity. Freedom. Choice. If I were to sum up the sport of running, those are the words I would use. Nothing could be simpler than lacing up your running shoes and just going where your feet take you. You want to run in -30 degree weather? Knock yourself out. Run up a mountain? Go for it. Depending on what you want to do, there’s a type of run out there waiting for you.

Road Running

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Meep Meep! Road running is one of the most convenient types of running because you can do it just about anywhere there is a paved road to run on. It’s also the most common type of running there is. Stepping out of your house and going for an easy run in the neighbourhood makes you a certified road runner.

It’s also the easiest to define, because there are no requirements other than a flat, paved surface.
Your typical 5k and 10k fun run is usually done on a cordoned off section of a town or city, while the most famous marathons are held in major cities like London, Boston and New York. If you’re just starting out, be sure to wear shoes with enough padding to lessen the impact.

Trail Running

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If you fancy yourself the outdoorsy type and find serenity amongst the trees, then you may want to give trail running a try. According to The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, a ‘trail’: A) is unpaved; B) has natural obstacles; C) has significant elevation/gain/loss; D) is scenic.

Trail runners burn an estimated 10% more calories and the soft dirt of the trail is easier on the joints and feet. If you choose to run on trails, you’ll be working out a whole new set of muscles, giving you more leg and core strength.

Trail runners also enjoy the solitude and find it a spiritual experience to be running off the beaten path, surrounded by nature’s beauty. There won’t be any cars to run you over and no smog, but be wary of bears, cougars, snakes, wild boar and other potentially dangerous animals.

Trail running is often mistaken for cross country running or mountain running due to the many similarities of these types of runs, such as natural trails, varying elevation and rough terrain. However unlike cross country or mountain running, trail running is not recognised by the IAAF, the international governing body for the sport of athletics.

Cross Country Running

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The granddaddy of running in the wild, cross country is an old sport which has deep roots in Britain, where most of its rules and traditions were formed. It draws many similarities with trail and mountain running, what with the races being held on open-air courses that feature grass, earth and gravel paths, usually cutting through woodlands or hills.

Cross country running is considered the natural terrain counterpart of road running and long distance track. It is also governed by the IAAF, which organizes the world’s most important cross country competition, the World Cross Country Championships. Races are usually held in winter, outside the track and field season.

The IAAF recommends a main course loop of 1750m – 2000m for international competition, which can be either a timed individual race or a team race judged by a point system. Even if the course is outdoors, on hilly or woodland areas, it generally has to promote continuous running, meaning there shouldn’t be any climbing, brush or deep ditches. Natural obstacles may be used where appropriate.

Mountain Running

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If you don’t mind a little incline, you could head for the mountains for your next race. The newest kid on the block in athletics, Mountain Running was only officially recognized and sanctioned by the IAAF in 2002, which recognizes the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) as its controlling body. This certification is what differentiates mountain running from skyrunning and trail running.

Although the races take place on mountains, runners are not allowed to bring special equipment such as ropes or survival gear, because the course has already been laid out and designed to eliminate danger. According to the WMRA, the philosophy of mountain running is similar to any athletics discipline where time is a factor and competitors should reach the finish line taking the defined route as fast as possible.

The race courses are varied, some are classified as uphill only races and others a combination of uphill and downhill.  Distances can range from short 15 minute sprints to longer runs that span several hours. Generally, the races are 12 kilometres for men and 8 kilometres for women (it can be more), but some events are full blown marathons and even ultramarathons.  These can take place in alpine ski resorts or towns high up in the mountains.


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This is literally where the earth and sky meet. The idea of forming a sports discipline for high altitude racing was formed in the 1990s when mountaineer Marino Giacometti and his pals raced on the peaks of Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa on the Italian alps. In 1993, the sport of skyrunning took off with races held in the Rockies to as far away as the Himalayas.

According to its governing body, the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF), the sport is an extreme offshoot of mountain running.  Runners run up and down mountains up to or exceeding 2,000m, where the incline exceeds 30% and the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade. Unlike mountain running, crampons, poles and gloves may be used during the course of the race. Skyrunning has three disciplines, Sky, Ultra and Vertical. It is not sanctioned by the IAAF.

Choose Your Own Adventure

If you’re sick of jogging and would like to up the ante of your cardiovascular pursuits a little, challenge yourself by trying out these running types. A change of pace and scenery can work wonders for your health, mind and motivation. Who knows, the type of run made for you might be just a few trails away.