Trail running 101: essential tips for beginners
Photo: Alex Gorham
Perhaps you're a hiker who wants to start running your local trail, or a road racer who's looking for more connection to nature. Or maybe you just found this article and said: "yeah, let's do this!"
No matter why you want to run trails, there are some basic things to consider before you get started.
Here, we run down a few for the absolute beginner. If you have other tips, we'd love to hear them in the comments below, or over on our Facebook page.
Remember, it's not pavement
It's going to get uneven, vertical, muddy, rocky and slippery on the trail. And that's all part of the fun. And it's also why it's important (especially if you're coming in as a well-heeled road runner) that you think differently about your run. Don't be discouraged if your times aren't what your used to when running on roads (they won't be). It's a different thing altogether, so don't be hard on yourself if your distance times double.
Trail runners are, well, built for trail running. And with some research, you'll find they don't have to cost a fortune. Aside from footwear, ensure you dress properly for the conditions, bring water (handheld for short runs is fine, but consider hydration packs for longer trails) and snacks. There are likely few, if any, snack carts along the way.
Also note that it can get dark unexpectedly fast on the trails, so lighting – whether that's a head or chest lamp – is important to remember. And like hiking, it's definitely a good idea to let someone know where you're off to.
Photo: David Marcu
Pace yourself, walk when you need to, and pay attention to your cadence. Consider shorter, higher steps and landing on the front of your foot rather than long strides and landing on your heel. This will help you tackle the terrain better, and avoid ankle or knee injuries. As the inclines get steeper, consider compacting your stride even further. When you hit the declines, slow it down, don't lean back too much, and again, there's no problem with walking when need to. It will actually be better for the trail's erosion if you do.
Strengthen your core
A strong core is great, no matter where you're running (especially during tougher weather) - however, for taking on trails it's essential. As you face hills and rocks and terrain of all kinds, a strong core will keep you stable as you shift from side to side as the trails dictate. Pilates, yoga, planks - they're all great ways to develop core strength.
Photo: Marco Secchi
While you won't have to look for cars cutting you off, you will want to keep an eye for wildlife. Some of these sightings can be majestic (imagine a herd of deer running beside you at dawn, an eagle soaring above). Others not so much (snakes, bears, crocs, etc). Also consider smaller creatures like darting chipmunks or slow-moving turtles on the trail. Before you head out into your local trail, make sure you know what wildlife to expect, and be prepared for encounters.
Leave no trace is a big one (and that includes don't leave a trace of banana peels either!). Stay mindful that the trails are shared with non-runners, such as hikers , birders and mountain bikers. And pass properly - if you're coming up behind another runner clearly tell them "on your left!" and then pass to the left. Likewise if you note someone outpacing you - whether a runner, mountain biker or power hiker - yield and let them pass by moving to the right. And a simple hello or nod to fellow trail users is nice too. Joining a trail running club is also a great way to pick up the nuances of trail etiquette, as well as a means to find new trails to explore.
Running in nature brings its own rewards, in any season. It's important to be prepared, and also to remember to have fun and take in all the great outdoors.