Road running: the sport where possibilities carry on for miles

Not sure what road running is or whether it’s for you? Our experts explain the advantages, the drawbacks, and the miles of possibilities.

Road running is the act of running on a hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. It’s different from running on other surfaces – for example, grass, muddy paths or uneven terrain (called trail running). There are some grey areas but, for the most part, if you’re running along a pavement then you’re road running.  

It’s generally where people begin their running journey, as it’s simple to start. You just open your door, turn left or right and head off down the street. There are no gym fees, no commuting and no special venue required. Your very own neighbourhood will do very nicely, thank you – and has done for Olympic champions and world record-holders. 

Sebastian Coe, the 1984 and 1988 Olympics 1,500 metres champion, used to prepare for his events by racing buses around Sheffield, while Saga Exceptional editor Paul Larkins’ friend delivered his Christmas cards during his 10-mile run. And I’ve run to get to places because it’s quicker than driving – even at my gentle pace.   

Man road running with trees in the backgroundCredit: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Famous road runners

Well-known road runners include Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah and, for those of you with longer memories, Ron Hill (who used to run barefoot in the 1960s). However, there are some who have hit the papers due to their unusual road runs. Michael Shanks ran all of Glasgow’s 6,000 streets having been inspired by Rickey Gates, who ran every street in San Francisco. Even Hollywood legend Tom Cruise loves road running. 

Tate Dobson completed an ultra-marathon by running continuously around a roundabout for more than five hours. And Russell Cook, from my hometown in Worthing, West Sussex, is attempting to run the length of Africa (9,320 miles/14,500km) in eight months. For motivation, I remind myself of what he is trying to achieve when I’m struggling to complete a 5k. 

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There’s not a better feeling than when you have found that moment of balance and harmony when both running and life come together. Then you know why you run and that you couldn’t live without it.

Joan Benoit, 1984 Gold Medal Olympian in the marathon. 

Advantages of road running

From a healthier heart and stronger bones to the mental perks, there are many benefits to running, says founder of The Kent Running Coach, Clare Norris. “Road running helps to get you outdoors and experience what your local area has to offer, and it’s easy to set yourself goals and see progress.” 

If you have a pair of running shoes and a pavement outside your house, you can become a road runner right now. Follow the couch to 5k plan if you’re a complete beginner to start clocking up some time on your legs. 

If you want to work at your own speed, flat surfaces are the ideal place to train. And, if you have the right shoes, you could become faster than you thought possible. You’ll be amazed if the world of running shoes is new to you – they’ve come a long way since plimsolls were invented. 

Shoe science has seen the development of carbon and cushioned shoes to help athletes become speedier than ever before.  

Carbon shoes can also help with stability by reducing the impact on your legs – which is important for us older runners. 

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Helen Brooks: I love to run because it keeps me centred. I run off the crazy – so to speak. I also love all the amazing friends I’ve met along the way.”

Disadvantages of road running

It can get a bit boring. If you don’t have time to plan a route, you’ll tend to find you run the same one over and over again. However, you can mix it up by adding in some speedwork. Try running as fast as you can for 10 seconds, before slowing back down – repeating as many times as you like. 

The fumes from cars can also get a bit overwhelming if you’re solely running on pavements. So, if you can, try running when the roads are quiet, or on quieter back roads. Exercising first thing in the morning could even help give you a mental boost. 

Then there’s the impact, says Norris: “Road running is said to be less forgiving to muscles and joints compared to trail running. However, it’s difficult to be sure if this is true and there is research that claims there’s no correlation between running surface and running injury.”  

However, if you’re finding the hard surface of the road tough on your body, you could try mixing it up with the softer surfaces that trail running has to offer, as well as making sure you’re wearing good-quality cushioned running shoes (and not the worn-out ones you’ve been wearing for years).  

Try a road race

There’s nothing quite like running along a closed road with thousands of other people. There are various events in the UK with distances ranging from 5k (3.1 miles) to marathons (42k/26.2 miles), if you’d like to try one.  

Road running has proved hugely important in the charity world. Runners in the London Marathon alone raised £58.3 million at the 2022 event and many others raise thousands for good causes.  

RunThrough hosts many closed road events across the UK, including my favourite, held at Goodwood motor circuit. It holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I completed my first 5k, before I became a marathon runner a year later.  

Road running might be where you start with running, but it’s up to you where you end up.  

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Rebecca Frew

Written by Rebecca Frew she/her

Updated:

Becky Frew has written various articles for newspapers and magazines focusing on fitness, is a qualified run leader, and a certified sleep talker trainer who loves to help advise people how they can nod off easier. When she is not writing or reading about fitness, she is at hot pod yoga, bounce class, training for an ultra-marathon or booking anything with a medal and free food at the end.

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