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Here’s how to get started with trail running

Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series on trail running for new runners.

As I mentioned in Part One of this series (6 tips to get started with trail running), there has been a surge in running, especially trail running since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Running on trails is generally safer than on roads but precautions still need to be taken so that runners can experience all the benefits that nature has to offer. Still there are some things to be aware of when lacing up, heading to a trailhead and getting some time on the trails.

Here is how I would recommend beginner trail runners to proceed:

  1. Bring nutrition and hydration. Even if you only plan a 30- to 60-minute run, it’s a good idea to be prepared. It can be more challenging to know where you are on a trail and find your way back to your car, or other final destination. If you get lost, there’s a good chance that you will need nutrition or hydration so that you can safely get back.

  1. Start out slowly. When first transitioning, runners need to get used to the various obstacles on trails — tree roots, loose stones, branches and other hazards. Oftentimes, it’s not the large root that will literally trip you up, it’s the small hazard that will catch a toe. For your first few runs, schedule them on your easy days and don’t rush through them. Enjoy the time on the trails.

  2. Look out ahead. In road running, we are coached to keep our heads upright, upper body leaning slightly forward. In trail running, we want to focus our eyes about 10 to 20 feet ahead of us so that we can adjust our footing when we spot something we need to maneuver our feet around. This takes practice and you will build your speed as you practice this.

  3. Embrace walking. Some trails have significant climbs, or relentless switchbacks. These are excellent opportunities to walk (or power hike, as ultra runners say). Walking steep hills is often more effective because you can often walk nearly as fast as you can run up without expending as much energy. Additionally, it allows you to lower your heart rate, slow your breathing and take in some nutrition or water. Unlike in road races, trail races rarely see participants — even the elites — run from start to finish. The wise trail runners are strategic when it comes to hills.

  4. Evaluate your gear. You won’t need to get all new running gear for running trails. But there may be some items that will help you. A handheld bottle or a hydration backpack for longer runs is advisable. Socks that keep your feet dry and prevent blisters are encouraged since you may be running through creeks, streams, mud or snow during winter in some areas. I am a big fan of Drymax socks, which have kept me blister-free. Additionally, I would recommend trail running shoes. While you could run trails in road shoes, they are not made to handle the aforementioned trail obstacles. A good place to start would be to review the collection of reliable reviews at RunningShoesGuru.

  5. Smile every mile. You will fall. You will get scrapes, bruises and/or bug bites. Muscles you didn’t know existed will revolt. But there is immense joy to be found in nature. The sounds and sights will calm and re-energize you. When you hit a negative patch, breathe deep and smile wide. You are in nature, doing what you love. You will get stronger, faster and happier the more you run trails.

I appreciate you reading this! Stop back next week for the next installment. And let me know what other topics you would like covered in this weekly series.

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