Trail running is perfect for those looking to challenge their bodies and build endurance while soaking up the benefits of being outdoors. Trail running allows you to work up a sweat and achieve a successful workout without paying pesky gym membership prices. While trail running is a worthwhile pursuit, it takes practice and preparation to ensure a safe and well-paced run.
If trail running is something you’re looking to incorporate into your lifestyle, read along for more information on this one-of-a-kind sport.
Road Running vs. Trail Running: What’s the Difference?
Before diving head first into the world of trail running, we first want to start by distinguishing trail running from road running. The most obvious difference between the two is that road running occurs on a paved path, while trail running weaves the runner through dirt trails for a scenic outdoor experience. However, the type of path is not the only thing that distinguishes trail running.
Road running and trail running both require different gear. While running shoes are necessary for both, trail-running-specific shoes are a requisite for your endeavor. We will look at the specifics of what characterizes a trail running shoe later.
Trail running also tends to be more difficult because trails are not as simplistic as paved roads or sidewalks. Trails are often rocky, throwing obstacles in the runner’s way. Most trails wind more frequently than paved paths, and some trails may even have changes in elevation.
Depending on where you live, road running is generally more accessible than trail running. Suburb and city-dwellers can generally access a paved sidewalk or road much quicker than a trail.
To sum up, trail running and road running differ in difficulty, accessibility, and required gear. One is not better than the other; however, some prefer trail running for the sights and added fitness challenges.
Now that we have established the basics, we have the top three trail running tips for beginners:
Tip 1. Gear Up
Having the right trail running gear is essential for your off-road adventure. Let’s look at a few trail running must-haves.
For a runner, shoes are everything. Having the right shoes is essential for providing adequate support for your feet and back as you run. The best trail-running shoes are built to keep up with the rough terrain of a trail for long distances.
The outsole or piece of material found on the bottom of trail-running shoes, is made with greater traction. This is necessary because, on any given trail run, you can come in contact with mud, dirt, rocks, and plant life. The traction on the outsole allows you to remain in control of your run no matter what terrain you are traveling over.
The upper of a shoe refers to the part that covers the top of the foot. In trail-running shoes, the upper is built tougher to withstand the trail conditions.
The midsole of a trail-running shoe, or the part of the shoe between the insole and outsole, is generally not as thick as road-running shoes. While paved roads are smoother than trails, they are also harder than the dirt you encounter while trail running. This means that road-running shoes require more cushioning than trail-running shoes.
Opting for a trail run doesn’t necessarily eliminate your ability to run at night, but there are certain safety essentials for a night run. One essential piece is a headlamp.
Road running at night is often simpler because city lights or street lights illuminate the path. While trail running provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of civilian life, it also removes access to conveniences such as street lights.
Bringing a headlamp on your nighttime trail run is the best and most convenient way to light the path you are traveling. Headlamps often have different settings, allowing you to shine a light farther down the path or wider for broad illumination.
Headlamps also eliminate the need to hold anything in your hands. This adds safety benefits and increased protection from falls by freeing up your hands.
Backpacks and lightweight packs are essential for longer runs. They allow you to run hands-free while also storing reusable water bottles and snacks to fuel you along your run. If you plan to run during the sun’s peak hours, a backpack may also be convenient for storing sunscreen.
Softpacks are essential if you’re planning a future trail running race or half marathon or even a brief camping trip. Consider a backpack cooler to keep your water bottle and snacks cold for a refreshing pit stop. Trail races vary widely in the running community; some love a 5k (3.2-mile trail), while others favor the ultramarathon.
Hydration packs are another trail running convenience that you may want to consider for your next run. The purpose of a hydration pack is to provide hands-free hydration efficiently. Hydration packs eliminate the need to make a pit stop specifically to grab a drink because they include drinking tubes with bite valves for easy accessibility.
Hydration packs typically store anywhere from one to three liters of water, depending on the size of your pack. Generally, runners drink four to six ounces of water every 20 minutes, but this can absolutely vary depending on weather and trail difficulty.
When embarking on a trail run, it is important to have navigation tools such as a map or GPS to make sure you don’t get lost along the way. A watch is typically the most convenient tool for navigation because it is less bulky than a map or even a smartphone.
Many GPS watches also track speed and distance during your run. Certain GPS watches also have heart rate monitors that can help you make the most out of your run.
Tip 2. Research Trails Beforehand
Deciding on your path beforehand is essential for trail running. You will want to research any new trail you plan to take so that you are prepared for any changes in elevation along the way.
You’ll also want to assess the distance of your trail and whether or not it loops back to your starting point to help you determine whether you’ll need to turn around or if you can travel the entirety of the trail.
For beginner trail runners, you’ll want to find easier trails to start out with. These will give you a feel for trail running and help you build up endurance. Gravel roads and dirt paths are a great place to start because they give you a feel for uneven terrain without the difficulty of mountain running. You can find gravel roads and paths in most national parks as well as around most towns and cities.
Local running clubs are also an excellent resource for learning what trails are best for beginners. Running clubs generally organize local runs meaning they will be well-versed in local trail information.
When choosing a trail, you’ll want to consider the distance and the time it typically takes to run it. Keep in mind that it can take as much as double the time to trail run as it does to run along a paved road for the same distance.
This is because of changes in elevation as well as the rugged terrain of most trails. This is another thing you’ll want to consider when researching the trail that is right for you.
Tip 3. Pace Yourself
When it comes to having a successful trail run, you’ll want to follow certain trail running techniques to preserve your energy and protect your body from injury.
Use Short Strides
Using shorter strides is key to your trail run. While road runners generally take longer strides, this is not necessary when trail running. Using shorter strides throughout minimizes stress on your feet and joints. Shorter strides also help you maintain a better running posture and ensure proper footfall.
Keep Eyes Down
Keeping your eyes on the trail is a necessary part of a trail runner’s technique. Many runners love trail running for the chance to escape into nature and enjoy mountainous vistas and wildlife spotting.
While enjoying the view is a definite benefit of trail running, you’ll want to remind yourself to look down at the trail frequently. This is especially important because trails tend to be rough, consisting of rocks and various plant life, which can cause potential tripping hazards. Scanning the path about ten to 15 feet in front of you is recommended for best results.
Even if you are familiar with the trail you are running, external factors such as wind and rain can cause some changes to a route making every run a bit different.
Posture is another vital thing to consider as you are trail running. Proper trail running posture is to keep your shoulders straight and aligned with your back. Once your body is aligned, lean only slightly forward for a relaxed running posture.
Swinging your arms is another helpful technique for trail running. Having a correct arm swing technique helps with balance and it also helps to propel you forward, increasing your momentum. For best results, keep your arms slightly bent at your sides and make a loose fist with your hands.
Ready To Run
Trail running is an exhilarating and scenic form of exercise. It is friendly for all ability levels and is an easy hobby to pick up, provided you follow guidelines to trail running success. Follow these top three trail running tips and experience all that nature has to offer.