Which is Harder? Road v Track v Trail

There’s a great debate constantly taking place between the “types” of runners.

On the one hand you have the trail and mountain runners, who argue that the fact that they even have to have this conversation is silly. 

“Uhhh… we run up mountains, down steep embankments, under inclement weather, and well… we run FARTHER than all of you.”

Elevation + Distance + Uneven surface = “No duh we’re the toughest.”

Sure. Fine. 


Isn’t it also true that most trail and ultra running is more a game of “who can take the most pain?” Isn’t it sort of… just… hiking?

...At least this is what an elite track star would say. 

Because… aren’t the stakes higher on the track? There’s much less room for error. The world records have been micro-attacked for decades already. The tiny gains are so mentally exhausting to strive for… because SPEED matters… legitimately attacking a track distance is brutally unforgiving. 


Well… though… isn’t it also true that you can sort of just take a day off if all you’re doing is running a 400? An “easy day” for a trail or marathon runner is not actually easy… whereas for a track runner… it sort of kinda actually IS easy, is it not? 

Maybe a mile here or there… on a perfect track… with clearly demarcated distances helping you keep pace…

“Not really that difficult,” says the marathon runner. 

Which… let’s get serious… the marathon is the king of kings. 

Not only do you have to run FAST… but you also have to run long. It takes the difficulty of a track workout in that incremental gains are hard to come by… though it also puts this speed effort on the back of 42K! That’s crazy!

Sure. Yes. Absolutely. 

But also you don’t reeeeeaaally need to do a marathon quickly to feel accomplished. Finish one at any jogging speed and you’ve technically joined the club. Not so much for a track event. 

And simultaneously… it’s generally “feasible.” Meaning… if someone had a gun to their head… mostly any healthy adult could at least walk a marathon without collapsing. It’s not THAT long. Unlike a trail run… where good luck finishing 100 miles even with a gun to your head.

And so…

Which is truly the most elite type of runner?

Track with its heavy-metric speed events?

Road marathons with their historical panache?

Ultra trail running with its length and elevation?

Truth is…

We’re all amazing. 

Keep arguing. 

Keep running. 

Have fun.


Jonathon Kendall

Founder, RunFarFast