Everything You Need To Know To Start Trail Running
Hello Fit Foodie Mama readers! I’m Hannah, and I blog at Prepare for Adventure. I started running about 8 years ago, but it was always an on again off again relationship until I discovered trail running. Trail running is one of my favorite things , and I think every runner should at least give it a try. Benefits: better scenery, softer surface, more solitude; oh, and if you’re in it for the athletic benefits, you’ll engage different muscles and improve your balance.
I won’t lie, there’s a bit of a learning curve for trail running if you’ve always run on roads; but if you can run and you can hike, then you can also trail run. If you’re ready to try it out, this post should help you prepare for your first trail run. First up, a little terminology.
Singletrack and doubletrack refer to the width of the trail. Singletrack is wide enough for about one person you might be able to pass another person, but not walk side by side with them. Doubletrack is wide enough for two or more people; it’s often trail that’s used by offroad vehicles.
Multi-use trails are just what they sound like the trail allows some combination of hiking/running, mountain biking, horseback riding, and motorized vehicles.
Timeshare restrictions apply to some multi-use trails, and mean that some uses are only allowed on certain days of the week. For example:
Technical terrain warns you that a trail will likely require some fancy footwork. Technical trails have extremely rough terrain and/or steep grades.
Choosing your trail
I recommend an easy, non-technical trail for your first foray into trail running. “Easy” and “non-
technical” are relative depending on where you live and whether you’re a hiker. If you do hike, a trail you’ve hiked before that’s moderately hilly with a fairly even surface is a good choice.
If the roughest surface you’ve run on recently is pavement, it’s time for some trail research. Hiking Project is a good place to start; it includes detailed trail descriptions, elevation profiles, and difficulty ratings. Ideally, find a trail with easy to moderate difficulty that has about the same elevation change as your hilly road runs; avoid technical terrain for now.
Consider navigability as well: are there many branches in the trail where you might turn the wrong way? Is the trail clearly marked? If your sense of direction isn’t the strongest, look for more popular trails. Heavily used trails are generally better marked, and you’ll be more likely to encounter other people who can give you directions if needed.
How to run on trails
Similar to road running, but a little different. So helpful, right? Okay, let’s get into specifics. In general, it helps to shorten your stride a bit on trails. It gives you more stability, which helps with staying upright on uneven footing. Also, keep your eyes on the trail ahead of you so you can notice any tricky footing coming up and adjust accordingly.
Speaking of tricky footing slow down! Expect your pace on trails to be slightly slower than your usual pace. It’s also totally fine, and sometimes unavoidable, to hike steep uphill sections. Think of it as slowing down to take in the scenery.
If you are running those uphills, shorten your stride significantly, and expect your pace to slow as well. It can help to stay on the balls of your feet. When you hit the downhill, open up your stride and let ‘er rip! Avoid putting on the brakes, which can cause your foot to land way out in front instead of squarely underneath you, where you want it. Exception: on a downhill with lots of loose rocks, put the brakes all the way on and walk down carefully.
Finally, don’t be surprised if your hip stabilizer muscles are super sore the next day it’s a lot more work keeping you stable on trails than on roads. If you ran on a rough trail, your feet and ankles may be feeling a bit beat up as well. Foam roll and/or massage everything, and know that your body will adapt as you run trails more.
Leave no trace: don’t litter, of course, but also don’t remove anything (like wildflowers) and avoid going off trail unless necessary like if you’re letting others pass or there’s a tree down across the trail.
Don’t wear headphones. Plenty of people do this, and not a single one that I’ve encountered has heard me approaching. What if a wild animal was approaching them instead? Your safety is more important than your entertainment.
Let hikers know before you pass them as with roads, pass on the left if you can. When you meet another runner or hiker, the person going uphill has the right of way. On multi-use trails, the right of way order is horses, then foot traffic, then bikers. If a trail allows off-road vehicles, everyone else yields to them. Be especially cautious if you meet horses on the trail; even well-trained horses can be big scaredy cats. Slow to a walk, alert the riders that you’re approaching well before you catch up, and pass or yield on the downhill side of the trail if you can.
If you’re going for a short run on a busy trail, there’s no need to run with any more gear than you would on the road. For longer runs, carry water with you even if you never carry it on road runs. It’s very easy to underestimate how long a trail run will take; my rule of thumb is to carry water if I think I’ll be out more than 30-45 minutes.
I always carry my cell phone on the trails. While you may be out of cell service range, you can still use the phone’s GPS to see roughly where you are and what direction you’re going. This has saved me from tacking on extra miles more than once.
For longer and more remote runs, bring a bit more safety gear, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. A small first aid kit and extra fuel are necessities; also consider sunscreen, bug spray, bear spray, a light, and a rain jacket, depending on where and when you’re going.
I saved trail-specific shoes for last; I don’t think you need them if you only run trails occasionally, and you definitely don’t need to buy a pair just to try out trail running. When it is time to buy, your favorite running shoe brand likely makes trail shoes, but there are also brands that specialize in trail running, like Salomon and La Sportiva. As with road shoes, your local running store is a good place to get advice on choosing trail shoes.
I hope this leaves you feeling more prepared to tackle trail running and if you do get out on the trails, I’d love to hear how it went!
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