Trail running is a sport or a hobby for most that consists of using trails to run or hike at your own pace.
Trails offer up a much more diverse and interesting experience than the same old flat roads, along with some added challenges that add to the fun.
There are some awesome health benefits to trail running, it’s not hard to get started, and even if you have a small interest in running, keeping fit, or enjoying the outdoors, I reckon you’ll fall in love with trail running.
Benefits of Trail Running over Road Running
Less Impact on Your Joints
You may think that trail running is going to be harder on your joints being as you’ll be running on broken and uneven terrain, but it’s the opposite.
The surfaces found while trail running is often softer than solid concrete, you’re running a little lighter as you’re navigating the terrain, and trail shoes tend to have a little more support.
So it’s perfect if you find pounding the pavement a bit hard on your joints or you’ve had injuries.
No Traffic to Avoid
Traffic is a pretty big distraction that can be quite dangerous. It’s almost eerily quiet the first time you remove yourself from the busy bustle of the city.
You’ll be in tune with the sounds of nature in no time. Birds chirping, the rustling of bushes in the wind, sounds idyllic, doesn’t it!
Varied and Interesting Routes
Monotony is probably the biggest motivation killer when it comes to lacing up the shoes are going for a run.
This is where trail running comes into its own. The outdoors is like an adult’s playground, you should be able to easily find an area with inclines, steep climbs, lakes to jump, and a range of different terrains.
The main reason you’re trail running is to get into better shape, right? Well, the good news is you are going to get into awesome shape while having fun.
The varied terrains are great for working all the muscles in your legs and core. You can increase or reduce the difficulty by choosing your own path too.
Along with working out different muscle groups that are not targeted with flat road running is an improvement in balance.
Again, this is something that you have some control over when it comes to difficulty. As you get better at trail running and know the landscape well you will find yourself jumping, skipping, and navigating obstacles like stunt person in no time!
Understanding Trail Running Basic Techniques
There is only so much I can do to describe the basic techniques here. You’re going to get a lot more from actually getting out there and running, however, here are some of the basics to be aware of:
Loosen up and let your arms swing freely. Even when you’re navigating obstacles don’t stiffen up, keep free and light.
Use shorter strides than you would running on flat roads.
You need to be more aware than road running. Make sure you’re aware of any obstacles well in advance and think about where you’re going to be stepping.
Don’t take big jumps. Keep the impact on your joints to a minimum, trail running is a long run not a high impact workout.
Find a rhythm and work on your breathing. Controlling your breathing will help you extend your cardio.
Choosing the Right Gear
Having the right gear is vitally important when trail running. The good news is that you do not need a lot of gear, and it’s not expensive to get started.
The right shoes will help you avoid injury, the right clothes will keep you comfortable and regulate your temperature, and something as simple as a hydration bladder will make keeping hydrated so much easier.
Here are the basics you need to know when gearing up for a trail run:
Trail Running Shoes
Probably the most important item of gear when trail running are your shoes. Injuries are all too common when people first start trail running, yet most are easily avoidable.
Minimalist flat shoes are becoming a popular choice. While they do give you a great, close to barefoot feel, I don’t recommend them for beginners.
Specific trail running shoes are designed to absorb more of the impact from rougher terrains like gravel and rocks when compared to normal running shoes.
They will typically have a thicker grip to help with traction adding a little extra safety along with the support when running across rocks and on inclines.
Trail Running Clothing
Clothing is a huge market and there is plenty of choices, so fear not, the fashion conscious are well catered for!
You want your clothing to be made from lightweight, breathable materials. It’s going to be a little trial and error getting the balance of the amount of layers just right, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and have one layer too much than too less.
You will probably find yourself shedding a layer or two as you warm up throughout the day. Trail running clothing is always lightweight, so throwing an item or two in a backpack isn’t a concern.
I’ve spoken about the importance of keeping hydrated while running many times. Your main options are water bottles, hydration vests, or hydration bladders.
Hydration bladders are by far the best option. They enable you to run freely without having to worry about finding your water bottles.
This leaves your arms free to concentrate on running and means you can sip as often and as much as you like.
Food and Nutrition While Trail Running
Most runners get by on a couple of energy gels or bars if they are going to be running for an hour or two.
Everyone is different when it comes down to how much to eat and how well you run on a full stomach, so it’s a bit of trial and error over time.
I covered half marathon nutrition in detail in this post. You can pick up the info on healthy foods for fuel and energy while running long distances.
Finding Trails to Get Started
There have to be some drawbacks to trail running, right?
Well, the only real drawback is that you might need to travel a little to find a good trail. But it’ll be worth it.
While almost all of us live in areas with no shortage of roads and paths to run on. Not all of us live near trails.
As a starting point, I suggest bringing up your local area on Google Maps and scouting for any trails you may not have been aware of.
If you drive everywhere you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Otherwise, city or state parks should be clearly marked up and worth investigating.
There are also plenty of websites, and if you’re old school you’ll find plenty of books with trails marked out. The added bonus to these methods is that you usually get loads of info about the trail, such as distance, difficulty, etc.
Running clubs are another consideration if you want to add a social aspect to trail running. It’s fun being part of a club, having running partners, and being shown trails you might otherwise never had known about.