Trail Running Tips
Trail running is really enjoying a boom in popularity, and it’s pretty easy to see why. It’s relatively inexpensive to get started. You just need a good pair of running shoes, preferably Goretex ones if your trail is likely to be muddy or a little unstable, a comfortable pair of running socks so as to avoid unwanted blisters, and a running jacket. We also recommend you purchase either a water bottle or a hydration pack depending upon how long you plan being out for. Once you get started, you will most likely be totally hooked! Heading out on a trail rather than just pounding the pavement is so much more appealing and therapeutic too as you get an opportunity to get up close and personal with Mother Nature. Escape to the woods, run through a meadow, and also give your body a bit of a break and switch things up by running on softer and more diverse surfaces. There are lots of reasons why trail running is good for you, and we’ve got a few insider tips on how to get started. So pop on your running shoes and grab the map as we take you through the 20 Trail Running Tips for Beginners that will have you jumping off the sofa and heading out in search of fresh air and adventure.
1. Proceed with Caution
The old saying “don’t run before you can walk” is most certainly true when it comes to trail running only rather it should be more like “don’t go perilously off-piste until you’ve practiced a few non-paved surfaces first.” Trail running doesn’t mean a rocky, treacherous mountain path or a route riddled with uprooted trees. Start slow and steady by testing out your running shoes on dirt road tracks, and wood chip covered paths or just a gentle non-paved surface like grass. You can build up to the tough trails in next to no time but when you’re starting, be patient and enjoy the mind-body connection.
2. Embrace the uniqueness and individuality of your chosen Trails
Pardon the pun but don’t get stuck in the mud! No two trails should be the same so mix things up and try running in different conditions, times of the day, taking a left instead of a right turn for a change on a usually familiar route. Just switching things ever so slightly when you are starting out can really pay huge dividends and vastly improve your running ability and your endurance. Trail running is a non-controlled environment so enjoy the freedom, flexibility, and unpredictability that can bring. Be present in the moment, just you, your running shoes and that new trail.
3. Focus on your rhythm
This is where music might help you to get into your stride. Grab a pair of running earphones that will stay put even if you are galloping like a horse over a brook! The fantastic thing about trail running is that there are so many variables. One day there might be muddy ponds to traverse, the next dried up and hard, unstable underfoot conditions to contend with, so focus on getting into your own steady zone and just enjoy the sense of being at one with the terrain. You will soon get into a good and steady stride that suits you.
4. Run safe and stay safe
While it is tempting to just go where the mood takes you in the pursuit of those amazing views, make sure that you don’t go too far off the beaten track and that you are never too far from emergency help. It’s a great idea when you are starting out your trail running journey to do it with a friend or to take a dog as your running companion. Never go without taking your phone and a source of ID and never leave without an insulated water bottle or hydration pack. Dehydration can be a killer, and if you do get lost, you need to have your wits about you and the energy to navigate your way back home.
5. Respect the trail and other runners too
There’s a strict code of conduct when it comes to trail running, and it’s all based around the leave no trace policy. Take home with you everything that you brought out on your trail run that day. Be courteous and polite to fellow runners you meet along the trail. There’s no need to stop and get into a deep conversation and spoil your flow, but a quick hello will go a long way.
6. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead and always pay close attention to any change in circumstances
Some trails might start out nice and easy but you never know what is coming up ahead so keep your eyes open and your wits about you at all times. There could be obstacles such as rocks, a river or the local wildlife to contend with be vigilant and don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger or overexert yourself. Try and pick a good line that helps build your confidence rather than trying to do something that is overly technical and too challenging in the early days. You might well have the invested in the most technically advanced Goretex running shoes on the market, but you are still acclimatizing yourself to this new outdoor pursuit.
7. Take time to slow down and just savor and enjoy your run
It’s essential that you are enjoying yourself when all is said and done. Unless you are in training for the next cross-country obstacle race, the most important thing is that you relax and have fun. As a good rule of thumb, if you could have a chat while you are running and still be understood, then you are going at a good pace.
8. Don’t get caught up on the distance you are running
When you are first starting out, it’s not how far you can go or how quickly you can do it. It’s about getting out, building up your endurance and enjoying the trail. So make your primary objective to be about staying out for longer on each session and building up consistency. As your body adapts to this way of running, you will get stronger and then be able to turn your attention to the distance you’re covering. Do ensure that you are wearing a really good pair of running-specific socks. Your feet will really thank you later.
9. Just like a car engine, switch up and down through your gears
According to the terrain, you need to pace yourself accordingly. Think of your body like a car engine and your feet are your gears. When I doubt, go into a steady cruise control!
10. Take good care of your trail shoes, and they will take care of you
If you intend to make trail running part of your new lifestyle, we can’t understate enough the importance of having the right footwear and of looking after and maintaining your running shoes. Trail running shoes do differ from regular shoes as they need to have a tread that protects you against rocks and roots and delivers a stable and dependable, supportive ride. Your running shoes need to act like little shock absorbers, shielding some of the impact of the rough terrain you are traversing.
11. Keep your shoes clean
Running over trails exposes your shoes to the elements so always make sure that you wash off any mud and debris that has been collected in your treads and if you do have wet trainers, make sure that you carefully dry them out. A great tip is to stuff damp trainers with newspapers or paper towels overnight to draw out the excess moisture.
12. Protect yourself not just your shoes from the elements
Always ensure that you are wearing sunscreen and it’s also a good idea to wear a hat. If you are running over a trail where this is a lot of debris, perhaps also consider investing in a pair of shoe gaiters. They might not look like the most stylish thing ever, but they will certainly help to protect you.
13. You can never have too much water
Staying hydrated is absolutely critical. Take with you as much fluid as you can carry. A handheld water bottle, a waist belt with a hydration pack, a weighted vest that you can fill with a water supply. It’s always better to have too much water than not enough.
14. A pair of poles might be a wise investment especially if you are attempting hills or mountainous trails
Trekking poles can come in really handy if you are new to trail running and want to attempt a steeper slope. They can help to aid balance and promote stability but more than that, they can also take some of the strain and impact away from your legs as you are attempting a more challenging uphill ascent. With practice, you will find that poles can really assist and not at all hinder your performance.
15. Get into the swing of things
Quite literally. Don’t be afraid to use your arms to help propel your forwards. Nobody runs with just their leg power to get your arms involved to provide you with momentum but also balance too.
16. Make sure that you continue to work on your strength and balance
This is where having access to a weighted belt, for example, can really pay dividends in propelling your results. You need to be complimenting your trail running with strength and conditioning exercises back home or in the gym. Try and go for at least one session a week and mix things up by including lunges, squats, push ups, calf raises and deadlifts. Try exercising on one leg or one an unstable surface too such as a stability disk or Bosu so that your body gets used to replicating the action of being outside on unpredictable and uneven surfaces.
17. Take time to work on your technical skills
Practice makes perfect in any new sport or discipline you are undertaking, and repetition is important to improve your speed, fitness levels, and power. Try running interval repeats and find a piece of trail that you are familiar and comfortable with and run it over and over to master the best technical skill. Your body and brain will reward you for this persistent pattern of behavior.
18. Be patient with yourself and take the recovery time your body needs in between runs
Start out easy and build up. There’s no need to go all guns blazing from the get-go. You will only end up injuring yourself and cutting short your trail running life. Make sure you plan in enough recovery time between sessions so that the new muscles you are using have time to recuperate.
19. If you decide to run a trail race, get yourself thoroughly prepared
You are by now quite likely to have been bitten hard by the trail running bug and be fully invested with the best Goretex running shoes, headphones, and socks you could afford! If you are planning to take things to the next stage and start entering races and competitions, put a training plan and effective pre-race programme in place. Try and do your trail running in conditions that are likely to mimic those of race day too so that you give yourself a good head start.
20. Finally, always be on the pursuit of new places to run or people to run with
Variety is the spice of life after all so try connecting with some local running clubs or find a subscription service online where you can access new and interesting maps and places to explore in your locality or even further afield. With nothing more than a good pair of running shoes and your water bottle, the world can quite literally be your oyster so as they say, keep running and always be prepared.