How to Start Trail Running

three people hiking together near the water

Are you considering stretching your legs and heading off road? Whether you’re already an experienced road runner or simply aiming to get more active, trail running offers an altogether different experience to most physical activities. 

It’s a great way to get off the beaten path, dive into nature, and test your limits on diverse ground. It can provide greater variety and stimulation than road running, while the soft surfaces of most trails are gentler on your joints too. 

Almost 49 million people in the United States went for at least one run in 2021. But trail running can demand a little more preparation than lacing up and heading to your local park or gym; here’s how to put your best foot forward.

Kitting yourself out

Investing in the right gear will make your trail runs more comfortable and enjoyable. Trail running shoes provide greater grip and stability than road running shoes, while a waterproof windbreaker helps when heading into the wilderness and raising your elevation.  

Extras include a smartphone or watch to track your activity, plus a map and compass if connection is hard to come by. For more extreme trail runs, invest in a headtorch and spare batteries to illuminate any rocks, branches and other hazards beneath you.  

Finding trails

You could just head out to a local nature spot without a plan. But seeking out trails beforehand will help you find the right length and terrain for your fitness and objectives.  

Parks are a good place to start for beginners. For a step up, research more remote trails for running and hiking online. You can also join local events or have more experienced trail runners show you new routes. 

Refining your technique

Trail running requires a little more technique than putting one foot in front of the other, with extra precaution needed to avoid injuries on tougher courses.  

Going uphill and downhill while dodging soft ground and trip hazards demands lots of mental concentration as well as physical. Building up your confidence and strength on gentle countryside paths is the best and safest way to start; as you progress, aim to go with the flow rather than setting expectations around pacing. 

Hydration and nutrition

You’ll need to plan your hydration and nutrition more carefully when heading away from civilization. Medical experts advise drinking extra water to cover fluid loss from sweating, so consider how long you’ll be out for, and the weather conditions involved. 

Drinking whenever you feel thirsty is a simple good practice to follow; you can strap bottles to chest pockets, use a drinking backpack and tube, or simply carry water in your hand. At the same time, avoid drinking too large amounts and becoming overhydrated. 

With these practical tips in mind, you’re all set to hit the trails!

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