Trail Running Tips

Tired of running on roads? Want something a bit different? Try trail running.

In Becoming Elli podcast episode 12, Jill Rango talks about improving balance and one of the things she mentions is to go outside and go for a hike. Walking on uneven trails with roots and rocks on the path makes our muscles work a bit harder and improves our balance.

Running on a trail takes this one step further. Trail running is a specialized kind of running. It’s a great change from street running. Running on dirt and grass can be easier on your legs and ankles though running on uneven surfaces can be a challenge.

One of the benefits of trail running is not having to deal with cars and the fumes from cars.

Here’s some tips for trail running:

If you’re just starting out with trail running, look for easier trails. These can be smooth, wider trails. There’s a park near me that is very popular with both walkers and runners. The path is wide and smooth.  Of course, there are some uneven surfaces and some roots to watch out for but it’s a fairly easy run. From there, you can move to less polished trails. These are often narrower and more strenuous. Work your way up to these harder trails.

Trail Running
Jill and Chris Trail Running

When trail running, you need to pay attention. You can’t be looking all around enjoying the scenery. You need to keep your gaze out in front of you because you can’t count on the trail being smooth. There may be rocks, roots, and fallen trees in the path. You want to avoid tripping and falling.

On the other hand, enjoy the scenery. It’s ok to pause to look around.  Running through a forest or along a stream or through a meadow is enjoyable. I often find myself stopping to take a photo when I’m out on a trail.

Trail Running
Running along the Cuyahoga River

Slow your pace on the trail. Whatever you run on the street, plan on being slower on the trail. It’s also ok to slow to a walk at times. If a trail is very rough, walk it. If you encounter a steep hill, you might want to walk. Many accomplished trail runners walk up hills and run down them.

Be sure to take water or your sports drink with you. You can’t count on finding water on the trail and you may end up being out there longer than you expected. It’s better to be prepared. I usually throw an energy bar into my bag as well, just to be on the safe side.

Speaking of safety, be sure to let someone know where you plan on running and when you expect to be back. Carry a phone with you as well. If you run alone, it’s best to stay aware of your surroundings. This is probably not the best time to wear headphones. Besides, you’re out in nature so enjoy the sounds of nature.

There are plenty of trail races but even if you’re sticking to road running and races, switching things up and running on trails as part of your training can really help you improve your speed. Running on trails uses more muscles and can be easier on your joints so it’s a great workout.

Trails also always seem to include a hill regardless of how flat the terrain is. I ran a trail race in Carolina Beach in North Carolina and the area was flat but somehow there managed to be a hill on the trail. I was muttering my complaints about that but I made it up without problem.

If you’re going to run trails, you might consider buying a pair of trail shoes. They tend to have less of a heel and more tread. I have a pair of Brooks trail shoes and use them for both running and walking on trails.

You may discover that you prefer trail running to road running. It’s certainly more scenic, usually much quieter, and presents a challenge. If you look around, you’ll probably find some trail running groups or races. I don’t know if this is accurate but trail runners seem to run longer distances than road runners.

Trail Running
Yikes! A turtle on the trail!

Even if you stick with road running, trail running is a good way to get in hill training and to shake things up a bit. Go out and enjoy nature!

Trail Running
Blue Heron

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