Top 10 Trail Running Tips for Beginners

by Claire Huffman
Last Updated: 28/06/2020

Have you ever considered altering your running routine to a more adventurous, challenging sports activity such as trail running? Many experienced, as well as new runners and joggers, have found trail running to be an excellent add-on to their running regimen.

Trail running is an activity that combines running and hiking, meaning running on an unpaved surface. It is similar to mountain running with a slight difference that it does not always include paved sections.

Trail running usually takes place on tracks that are simple and easy to follow hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain.

Some people consider trail running similar to the regular running on the roads, but there are specifics and differences you need to consider as they may affect your experience and motivation for this activity in the long run.

Here is a list of the top 10 trail running tips that will ease your start in trail running:

1. Find Good Trails

Before you hit the track to your first training, make sure you know the environment where you would run and check the trails.

Some people are lucky enough to live next to good trails but others need to plan in advance. We suggest you use a map and follow the green-coloured areas that indicate public spaces convenient for trail running.

Other options are parks, big and small, that often include single trails though they usually have pavements.

Consider networking with other trail runners in your local community. Use social media to find your running buddies or take a look at the trail running calendar to see what’s on in your area.

Connect also with the national park or forests preserves near you. Trail running events and races are also a great way to meet other practitioners of this activity and share experiences or ideas.

2. Practice Your Technique and Pace

As a beginner, you must be aware that trail running requires more intense movements and focus than other types of running.

Even if you have experienced jogging and regular running techniques, trainers would advise you to prepare for the challenging pace of this activity.

Though evidently slower, the pace is adapted to the terrain requirements of rocky lands and hills.

Experienced runners suggest focusing on the body’s effort and stamina rather than on mile splits. Also, when measuring your achievement and action, think about the duration of your running rather than the distance covered.

If you run downhill, it is suggested to run with a fast stride rate to ensure a balance of gravity but if your run uphill than you should do it with frequent, brisk steps in a high cadence.

When you are at a rocky terrain you should pick a path a stick to it as long as you can in order to avoid tripping or poor footing.

3. Learn When to Fuel Your Body

More important of what is when you eat when trail running. If you run for more than 90 minutes, expect to have your glycogen stores dropped and ready to refuel. Therefore, you should consider carrying enough adequate nutrients for your training.

If your body runs out of fuel and you fail to compensate, you may end up with side- effects such as brain fog and complete body fatigue. You can avoid this from happening if you provide 200 to 300 calories per hour while running, or up to 75 grams of carbohydrates.

It is very important to fuel up on every 20- 30 minutes and not wait too long to add calories while running. The gradual, timely consumption of fuel will protect your body from tiredness and potential burn out.

4. Food and Hydration

Apart from knowing when it is equally important to know what to eat during trail running. Moreover, a balanced water- intake is another crucial element that will contribute to your health and endurance during this intense activity.

Rule number one is to ditch any diet fads and stick to dieticians’ general advice- include all nutrients and ingredients if you are a healthy, active individual.

If you are eating enough during the day, you only need to focus on fueling training that lasts over 60 minutes. Dietitians recommend protein bars and shakes as well as smoothies and dry fruit as convenient fueling snacks.

According to experts, during long training, it is best to consume 40- 90 g of carbs per hour and 16 – 20 ounces of water.

How much macro or micronutrients you need depends on your specific body needs according to weight, height, and strength, so make sure you consult a health care expert in sports nutrition before you start running.

5. Wear the Right Shoes

If you have decided to introduce trail running in your regular lifestyle, make sure you invest in a pair of quality trail running shoes for this activity.

Trail-running shoes are not the same as the usual running shoes as they are lower to the ground to prevent ankle injuries and also much robust in order to manage through rugged terrains and trails that you often may find to be wet or muddy.

Maintenance is the key to preserving expensive gear, so make sure you clean and dry your pair according to the brand’s instructions.

6. Prepare Your Body and Stamina

If you want to improve your endurance during running sessions, don’t forget to include other types of training such as weightlifting and balance workouts.

Your workouts should include exercises such as lunges, bridges, squats, push-ups, calf raises, and donkey kicks but also movements on a BOSU or wobble board that will enhance your balance and stability.

Other types of sports activities such as Pilates or Barre, a combination of Pilates exercises and ballet movement, are an excellent way to strengthen joints, muscles, and ankles and thus prevent injuries.

Incorporate strength and balance training 2 to 3 times per week, at home, or at specialized studios for the aforementioned sports.

7. Relax and Recover

Regardless of your challenges and results achieved, recovery and relaxation are essential to keep your body healthy and strong.

When you run hard on hills or any rugged trails, you boost your body to hit upper levels of stamina in order to endure the intensity.

In the beginning, you may opt for rail training once per week and then gradually add up to the frequency, according to your personal strength and endurance.

8. Mind Your Safety and Time

Running off-road can often be unpredictable and, therefore, adventurous but also challenging in terms of safety. The best way to stay safe and avoid any risky situations is to find a spare partner in running or even take your dog with you.

If this is not the safety-solution for you, them make sure you always inform someone of your whereabouts before you go running. Also, don’t forget to charge your phone, and take fuel and water. If possible, take your ID and a map of your track.

Luckily, nowadays there are safety apps that you can use on your phone or electronic devices that will track your movements and ensure your safety.

In addition, you will probably consider investing in a quality headlamp as trail runs may often end up in the dark where the only light would be that of streetlights. This may make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe so make sure you always have your own torch or lamp.

Every terrain has its own challenges, so it is wise to test your endurance through your individual time- frame toward a goal in order to learn more about your pacing.

Avoid setting far-fetching challenges at the beginning as these may take too much of your time and reduce your motivation.

One of the best ways to test your pace and endurance is to start by running out and back on a certain distance. This way, you will build your own running pattern regarding time and pace and you will easily extend or reduce it according to your personal needs or goals.

9. Get a Weather-Protection Kit

If trail running becomes your sports routine, your running kit will certainly vary depending on the seasons. However, that doesn’t mean that you will need to pile up unnecessary amounts of expensive sports gear. All you have to do is plan in advance and make smart choices when purchasing your sports necessities.

For cool and cold weather you should consider a water/ windproof jacket and pants, a pair of gloves, a beanie, and a long-sleeved top base. Summer trail runs are best performed with a pair of shorts, a cap, a dri-fit T-shirt, and wicking socks.

10. Step by Step to Your 1st Race

If you are aiming toward a race, consider making a plan that will build up your stamina and endurance to a level high enough for such a challenge.

Start with a twice a week training on flatter trail and then upgrade the frequency and the ruggedness of trails on a weekly basis. This way, you will slowly and adequately adapt to new trails while preventing soreness.

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