For most non-runners running is just one sport. Just like there’s only one soccer or one ice hockey. It’s seen as this movement where someone puts one foot in front of the other for a certain amount of time.
But this view isn’t complete. There are many different types of running that for your body and mind can almost be completely different sports.
In my past running I’ve tried some of them and in this article I wanna describe the most typical running genres, their characteristics and guide you on how to find the running genre that fits you most.
So let’s get started with the different types of running there are. At least with the most popular ones. You’ll see that some are very different from one another but some overlap and are more like sub genres.
Let’s get started.
This for me is one of the main categories of running. There’s endurance running and then there’s sprinting.
Distances from 60 meters up to about 400m are completely different from any longer distances. You can easily see this when you look at the pro athletes in both sports. The bodies of sprinters and endurance runners are completely different.
Sprinting is “running as fast as you can”. It’s more a thing of speed and maximum strength and not endurance. Also the metabolism is totally different. For sprinting you mostly need ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which can be viewed as the end product of metabolism. It’s what your muscles need to contract.
A sprinter won’t eat a plate of pasta the evening before a big race because their race is done before your body can metabolize carbs into ATP.
Sprinting is the genre I’m not at all focused on on this website. That’s because I’m not interested in lacing up my running shoes for a couple of seconds of running 🙂
Of course sprinting is mostly done on a track if you’re not sprinting to catch a bus or train 🙂
But also what in athletics is considered middle and long distance running is mostly performed on a 400m track.
The typical middle distances are the 800m and the 1,500m or the one mile run. These distances need, contrary to sprinting, great aerobic and anaerobic energy metabolism capabilities and of course speed endurance.
Also the long distances in track and field, except the marathon are performed on the 400m track. These are the 5,000m and the 10,000m races. The marathon that is the longest of the long distances in athletics and is obviously done on the road and I cover it in the next chapter.
The 5k and 10k races on the track not only need very well aerobic capacity and anaerobic capabilities for the last one or two rounds, but also tactic and race strategy become more important.
For most amateur runners track running is not really an option. Just running rounds on a track can be boring and many don’t have access to a track where they live.
However I suggest doing some workouts on the track if you have the chance. Especially interval trainings (400m or 800m intervals with 200m jogging in between) are great on a track. Also performance measurements like the Cooper test can be done on the track because the results are easily comparable due to the same surface and the even ground.
Road running is what most hobby runners do, especially those living in urban areas. It’s easy, just put on your trainers and head out of the door and run.
A lot of popular races are also on the road. Nowadays a lot of bigger cities feature at least one yearly running event, many have more throughout one calendar year.
Famous are of course the big city marathon with tens of thousands of runners each year. It’s in these races where marathon history is made, especially on fast courses like Berlin or London.
The surface as accessible it might be for almost everyone comes with its own challenges. Asphalt is a pretty hard surface and if you’re not used to it or you made a bad shoe choice can easily lead to injuries.
Also road running has its own dangers. Sure you’re in the middle of civilization and if you have an accident help is often not far away. But the air might be very polluted and you have to cross streets and accidents happen often.
So if you go road running keep these things in mind and try to stay safe at all time.
This is my favorite, this is my thing. I love to be in nature and away from the frantic city life. I love the time when my mind can wander and the time I can spend alone with nature and my own thoughts.
Trail running starts where the road ends. Of course not everyone has beautiful trails in their neighborhood. If you live in a big city and haven’t forests and mountains around the corner, look out for some parks or city trails. And take advantage if you go on a weekend trip and go run in nature, you won’t regret it!
Trail running itself can be very different. You can run on a flat forest track or on a very technical single trail in the mountains. I’ll dig a big deeper in some sub genres of trail running in the coming chapters.
Trail running has become a huge trend sport in the past years. Hundreds of new races pop up every year all around the world and athletes like Kilian Jornet helped to make the sport known to the general public. Also it’s becoming more professional especially in Europe and also more commercialized.
Technically an ultra marathon is any distance that exceeds the 26.2 miles of a marathon. But most ultra races are way beyond the 50k distance and go up to 200 miles and even more.
As far as surface anything is possible. There are some famous road ultra marathons like the Spartathlon in Greece or the 100k of Biel in Switzerland that has been there since the 1950s.
Also trail ultra races have become famous throughout the past years and decades. This whole thing probably started with Gordy Ainsleigh founding the Western States 100 mile run in the 70s.
Also the race formats can be very different. I personally like running a beautiful trail run that is held on one day. But you can also go for a 12 or 24 hour run on a track or a short course. There are many multi day events and also some nice formats like the last (wo)man standing. In such a race you run a short course until everyone else dropped out.
Ultra running is a way more complex sport than running a 5k on a track. Not only your endurance plays a role but also hydration and nutrition and of course your mental toughness.
In recent years I only ran ultra races mostly on trails in the mountains. This has become my passion.
Basically sky and mountain running are sub genres of trail running. Here not only the distance and the surface are challenging but you also have to consider the elevation gain (and loss) of a race.
Skyrunning is going to the extrem featuring inclines of around 30%. Common formats are the VK (vertical kilometer) in which you just run up 1,000m in often less than 5k distance.
The origins of this genre can be found in the Italian Alps in the 1990s but soon steep mountain races of any distance spread around the big mountain ranges across the globe.
Living in Switzerland and being a mountain lover, it’s no surprise that running in the mountains is my favorite. However I like the longer distances and not the very short but very steep VK races.
If mountain and ultra running isn’t extrem enough for you, there are some adventure races to consider.
Adventure races are not only about running but also about facing difficult conditions of any kind. You could do the Marathon des Sables where you cross the Saharan Dessert in five days or the Badwater Ultra Marathon, a 135 miles race across the Death Valley in July.
If you like the cold there are also races for you like the Yukon Arctic Ultra. Also some extreme mountain races like the 170k, 10,000m elevation gain Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc can have an adventurous character.
And there’s more like running across the jungle or events like the Barkley Marathons. The creativity of adventurers knows no limit I guess.
So after reading about the most popular running genres, do you know which one fits you the most?
I guess most runners start out about the same way I did. A mix of road and trail running and with shorter distances. Others might have a track & field background from college sports.
But if you find a passion in running it’s worth to try out new things and think about which type of running is your thing. Of course this can also change over time.
You have to consider a few things. First you might be limited depending on where you live. It’s hard to become a mountain runner if you live in the Netherlands. And if you live in Manhattan probably road running is your only option.
Also consider your personality. For ultra races you need to build mental toughness and spend many hours alone training. Being an introvert has proved to be helpful to stand hours of running alone.
And after all try as much running genres as possible in your running life. You never know which one clicks with you.