Trail running is more than just a good workout. Every trail run is a chance to discover new places, experience the beauty of nature, and give yourself time to refocus and clear your mind. And trail running can be done almost year round!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned road runner wanting to mix up your routine or new to running, everyone can enjoy trail running. And most people are surprised when they discover just how many trails are nearby! These tips, tricks, and trail finding guides will help you get started, enjoy trail running safely, and get the most out of your miles.
Find a Trail
Remember to start slow and keep your distance manageable. Trail running usually takes longer and can be more physically demanding than running the same distance on a road. The rougher terrain will slow your pace and force you to use more muscles than traditional road running.
Whether you are looking for gravel roads or dirt trails, there are a number of resources to find good running trails. State parks often have well-maintained trail networks that are short and easy, giving you a chance to get used to running off-road.
MapMyRun allows you to search for popular running routes near you. It even allows you to search based on criteria like distance and trail surface. While you’re on the site you can set up your own account to keep track of your own runs.
Consider a Running Club
Joining a trail-running club can be a fun way to meet other trail runners and explore new trails. The American Trail Running Association and I Run Far are two excellent resources for finding clubs and learning more about trail running around the United States and Canada.
Cadence is the number of times your feet hit the ground in one minute. Aim for a high cadence with short, quick strides. Keeping your feet under you helps maintain good balance. This will help you be able to react quickly to obstacles and changes in the trail. Having a long stride increases the risk of tripping, twisting your ankle, or losing your footing. Long strides also make it hard to lengthen your step to leap over a rock or muddy patch.
Be sure to keep your eyes on the trail about 10 to 15 feet ahead of you. Trail running requires you to be alert and aware of the trail ahead of you so you can choose the most sure-footed route. Avoid the temptation to either stare at your feet or get lost in the scenery around you.
Good posture is key. Keep your shoulders straight and stand tall. Hunching or rolling your shoulders forward makes it harder to breathe and puts strain on your back. Good posture allows you to breathe easier, build a stronger core, and have better balance.
When running downhill, keep control of your pace and avoid leaning backward as this can lead to muscle strains or injury. Use your arms for balance by letting your elbows swing wide.
One of the perks of trail running is that you really don’t need much equipment! It can be as simple as throwing on shorts and t-shirt and lacing up your shoes. Here are a few gear options that will make your trail running experience safer and more comfortable, especially as you tackle longer runs or more technical trails.
Trail running shoes offer more traction, better foot protection, and greater stability than road runners. From minimalist to maximum cushion and protection and everything in between, the options are endless.
All trail running shoes emphasize good traction on a variety of surfaces. It’s worth doing a bit of research to find a pair of shoes best suited for your feet, your style of running, and the kinds of terrain you plan to tackle.
It’s important to stay hydrated no matter where you go running. When you’re out on a road run there’s always the possibility of stopping at a convenience store or running through a park with water fountains (or calling the husband to come get you if you run out of water far away from home… like I’ve done once or twice). There are no such options out on the trail, which makes carrying water more important (even on shorter runs).
For short trail runs consider using a small handheld water bottle or waistpack. Some handheld bottles and most waistpacks include a pouch to store your key and maybe an energy gel.
Longer runs require more water. A waistpack with more water capacity or a running hydration vest or pack are good options to consider. They carry more water and offer more storage for a snack, some basic first aid supplies, and an extra layer of clothing.
If you opt for a hydration pack, make sure to get one that cinches securely. If the pack moves around too much it will be uncomfortable. Too much bounce might throw you of balance and may cause painful chafing. Also make sure it is narrow enough that your arms can swing freely without rubbing against your pack.
Trail running apparel is really a matter of personal preference and comfort. Whether you live in hot or cool climates, be sure to choose clothing made of breathable, moisture-wicking fabric that dries quickly.
Lightweight technical t-shirts and long sleeve shirts are great for layering. Trail running generates a lot of body heat, especially from your core. Dressing in layers allows you to shed layers as you warm up and keep warm if bad weather moves in or you stop for a break.
Socks are the unsung heroes of trail running. Never underestimate the comfort and benefits of a quality pair of technical socks. Synthetic or merino wool socks are the best, as they wick moisture and help prevent blisters. There are a number of good sock brands. Don’t be afraid to try a few to find your favorite brand and style.
A hat is another good investment. A technical trucker hat in warm weather and a lightweight beanie in cold weather are good choices. They will give you sun, wind, and weather protection. If you are running in heavily wooded areas a hat will also help protect against ticks and bug bites on your scalp where hair might make it more difficult to find them.
As your relationship with trail running gets serious, consider investing in a lightweight soft-shell jacket. Soft-shells are easy to pack for cooler temperatures and more breathable than waterproof rain jackets so you don’t overheat or get too drenched with sweat.
Now you’re ready to hit the trails! Don’t forget to start slow and have fun!
Do you have a favorite trail you run or a favorite piece of trail running gear you recommend? Tell us about them in the comments.