Trail Running 101
From Asphalt to Dirt: Tips for the Beginner Trail Runner
In 2015, nearly 8.14 million Americans went trail running. Amazing views, empty tracks and the enjoyment of escaping into wilderness are luring more runners from their regular asphalt routes to dirt tracks.
With limited barriers to entry, it’s easy to see why this once niche sport is becoming increasingly popular. Nearly everyone lives near a park or reserve with trails suitable for running. The only required gear is a good pair of running shoes- although there has been an explosion of tracking devices, hydration packs, compression apparel and other gear in the last decade that many runners utilize. It’s possible to run year-round (sometimes with the help of some added traction during winter). And there is an incredibly supportive network of trail enthusiasts that turn the sport into a great social activity.
If you’ve been considering trying trail running, here’s some tips for starting out:
- Start on flat, easy terrain. Keep the gnarly uphill routes with hefty elevation gain for after you’ve practiced jumping over rocks and tree roots on the flat.
- Choose a trail you’re familiar with. Is there a park nearby with trails you’ve hiked before? Start here and increase your pace. It’s also good to start out using time instead of distance as your measure. 5 miles on the road is different to 5 miles of muddy single-track.
- Speaking of pace, the fun thing about trail running is that it varies according to the terrain. No monotonous flat road here. It’s all fast descents, jumping over rocks, slowing down over slippery parts, walking on the incline and racing on the gravel. Don’t worry if you need to walk the hills and don’t expect to meet your usual road pace. Trail running is exhausting. Take short strides and start slow until you improve your technical skills.
- Bring plenty of water. A hydration pack or hip pack with water bottles can be a great piece of gear to invest in. You can also store your keys and phone in here, meaning you can focus on running and not juggling.
- Go running with a buddy. Friends can make running more enjoyable (and safer!). This tip is from Hillsound brand ambassador, Pat Malaviarachchi: “Joining a group of other trail runners is a great way to get into the sport. It’s always safer running the trails with others than solo and it’s easier to discover new areas to run. Also, signing up for your first trail race is a great way to stay motivated and ensure you get out there.”
- It’s fine when you’re just starting out to wear your regular runners. Just don’t expect them to be clean when you get back. Trail running can be VERY dirty. As you progress it can be wise to invest in trail running-specific shoes, as they can help avoid injury and the lower profile gives a closer-ground feel.
- Stay safe. Make sure you’re constantly watching the trail ahead and preparing for your next awesome leap over roots or rocks. When you progress past familiar trails (see tip number 2), it’s important to bring a map and phone with you and let someone know your intended route.
- Be polite. Yes, there are rules on trails, and we’d recommend adhering to them if you want to avoid being one of ‘those people’. In general, if you are running uphill you should yield to those coming down. Take out anything you bring in- don’t discard used energy gel packets on the ground, for example. And stay on the track. Thousands of people skirting puddles and mud can lead to destruction of the surrounding environment.
- Have fun!
Do you have any other tips for beginner runners? Leave them in the comments below!