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How to Start Trail Running: Tips for Beginners

Written by Joaquim Anjos


Posted on September 28 2023

Essential Tips for Beginners

If you're a running enthusiast looking for a more exhilarating and nature-centric challenge, trail running might be the perfect choice for you. Trail running offers a unique experience where you can connect with nature, push your limits, and enjoy a sense of freedom that's hard to find in urban races. However, before venturing onto the trails, it's crucial to be well-prepared.

That's why we're going to give you five pieces of advice that we think are essential to show you how to start trail running:

1. Proper Gear


The first step to getting into the world of trail running is ensuring you have the right gear. This includes a pair of trail running shoes, which are specifically designed to provide better traction on uneven terrain. Additionally, invest in moisture-wicking clothing to keep you comfortable and dry during your runs.



2. Start Slow and Build Stamina


Trail running can be more demanding on your body compared to road running due to the uneven terrain and elevation changes. To avoid injuries, start with shorter, less technical trails, and gradually increase your mileage and the difficulty of the trails as your stamina improves. This gradual progression will help your body adapt to the demands of trail running.

Learn more about how to prevent injuries in the world of trail running.



3. Safety Precautions


Trail running often leads to remote and isolated areas, making safety a paramount concern. Whenever possible, consider running with a trail running buddy. Having a companion along can be invaluable in case of emergencies. 

Ensure you carry essential items such as a fully charged phone, basic first aid supplies, a headlamp or flashlight, and a whistle to enhance your safety. 

Lastly, know your limits. Especially when you're just starting out, avoid pushing yourself too hard. Be ready to turn back if the trail conditions become too challenging or if you begin to feel fatigued.



4. Trail Running Races


As you grow in confidence and accumulate experience, it's worth contemplating participation in trail running races or events. Begin by selecting the appropriate race; opt for shorter and less technically demanding races initially, and gradually progress to longer and more challenging events. 

Seek out training plans tailored explicitly for trail races to ensure effective preparation. These plans can be instrumental in honing your skills and readiness for the competitive trail running environment.



5. Embrace the Experience


Lastly, embrace the experience of trail running. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and solitude of nature. Trail running can be a meditative and fulfilling activity, so take the time to appreciate the journey as much as the destination.


Making the Transition: From Road Running to Trail Running

If, on the other hand, you're already an experienced runner but only on urban and road terrain, here are some tips to make your transition easier.


Embrace the Unpredictability


  • Foot Placement Mastery: Trail running requires you to become a master of foot placement. On trails, you'll frequently encounter uneven terrain, including tree roots, rocks, and mud. Developing a keen sense of where to place your feet and how to adjust your stride for each obstacle is essential. This skill comes with practice, so start on less technical trails and gradually work your way up to more challenging terrain.


  • Technical Descents: Descending on trails can be one of the most technically demanding aspects of trail running. Here, balance is key. Practice controlled descents by leaning slightly forward and taking shorter, quicker steps. Use your arms for balance and consider using a zigzag pattern (switchbacks) on steep descents to maintain control.


  • Trail Navigation: Trail running often involves navigation, especially on less marked or remote trails. Learning basic map reading and orientation skills can be invaluable. Consider taking a course or using GPS apps that allow you to track your route and stay on course.



Adjust Your Running Form


  • Adapting to Terrain: Trail running will constantly challenge your adaptability. Your running form will naturally adjust as you encounter different terrains. When going uphill, lean slightly forward and use your quads more. On downhills, maintain an upright posture and let gravity assist you. The key is to let your body adapt organically while staying mindful of balance and efficiency.

Learn more about mastering different types of terrain.


  • Core Strength: Developing a strong core is crucial for maintaining stability on the trails. Incorporate core-strengthening exercises like planks, Russian twists, and leg raises into your training regimen. A strong core will help you maintain proper form and reduce the risk of injuries.


  • Arm Coordination: Your arms play a pivotal role in trail running, especially when navigating technical terrain. Swing your arms in rhythm with your stride to help you maintain balance. Use them to propel yourself forward during ascents and to brace for balance during descents.



Invest in Trail Shoes


  • Traction Considerations: Trail shoes come in various models with different levels of traction. Consider the specific terrain you'll be running on when selecting your shoes.


  • Protection for Comfort: Many trail shoes include protective features like reinforced toe caps and rock plates. These elements offer protection from sharp rocks and debris, ensuring a more comfortable and injury-free run.


  • Fit and Sock Selection: Pay meticulous attention to shoe fit and consider wearing moisture-wicking socks. Ill-fitting shoes can lead to blisters and discomfort, which can quickly ruin a trail running experience. Break in your trail shoes gradually before embarking on longer runs.



Start with Beginner-Friendly Trails


  • Research Trail Ratings: Beginner-friendly trails are often labeled as such in trail guides and apps. Look for trails with lower difficulty ratings or marked as "easy" or "beginner." These trails are typically well-maintained and have fewer technical challenges.


  • Build Technical Skills: Use beginner-friendly trails to build essential technical skills. Practice negotiating minor obstacles like small rocks and roots to gain confidence. Gradually, you'll become more comfortable with more technical features.


  • Progress Thoughtfully: As you gain proficiency and confidence on beginner trails, gradually progress to more challenging routes. Consult trail ratings and reviews to ensure you're ready for the next level of difficulty. Consider joining local trail running groups to learn from experienced trail runners and discover new trails suited to your skill level.




Are You Ready For the World of Trail Running?

Trail running offers a thrilling and nature-centric challenge for running enthusiasts seeking a deeper connection with the outdoors. It's an opportunity to break free from the constraints of urban races and embrace the natural world.

We are confident that these tips will assist you not only in your journey of how to start trail running but also in transitioning smoothly from road running to this sport. They will provide you with valuable insights into what trail running entails and how to prepare effectively for the diverse terrains it presents.

Explore our in-depth guide on "What is Trail Running?" to gain a deeper understanding of this exhilarating sport.



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