If you’re a trail running beginner and looking for some tips, then we’ve got a few ideas that can help you get ahead of the pack early on.
Whether you are heading out for your first trail run or deep into training for your first 50K, trail running does require some planning before you head out the door. Stepping onto the trails for the first time can seem intimidating to some.
But don’t worry! We’ve got plenty of helpful suggestions that will get you trail running safely from the start.
15 trail running tips for beginners:
1. Take Time to Find the Right Trail
Before you set out upon your first trail adventure, you’ll need to spend some time researching and finding the right trail. While some beginners don’t realize it, selecting an excellent trail for a newbie will basically either solidify or ruin your running goals. For example, if you start with the wrong path, you might pick something too complicated or unfamiliar, and wind up with an injury.
Trail running occurs any time you run off-road or pavement, but you need to make sure you still pick an area that’s accessible and worth utilizing. Just because trail running means you’re running off of the road doesn’t mean you should find a trail in an isolated forest area to start your adventures.
At this point, you don’t want to overdo your goals and wind up running everything by selecting a place that’s too rocky and hurting an ankle or leg. So, try to start with something simple or easy. For many newbies, a bike path is a great place to start.
You’ll also want to ensure that you select a trail that matches up with your fitness level. If you pick something too difficult, you might wind up overly sore and less motivated to try trail running again. So, be honest with yourself when you make your trail selections.
As a beginner, try to find a comfortable, short, flat trail that gives you a sample of what you can expect. As you get stronger, you can pick other trails. If you aren’t sure where to go to start looking up paths, try trails.com, and search your area.
2. Don’t Overdo It
Even if you are in shape from other types of physical activity, you’ll feel surprised once you realize how quickly trail running can exhaust you. Trail running is much more excruciating than on-road running for most people because it requires you to adapt to the terrain as you run.
So, as you start on the trails, you want to run at a slow to average pace. Make sure your gait is conversational and slower. Don’t try to run faster than 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. If you stick to that pace, you shouldn’t see overdue things as you get used to just starting.
If you’ve never run on the trails before and you are entirely new to this exercise, seek out a path that is flat and easy. Try to get used to running about 20 to 30 minutes at first, going uphill slowly and canvassing past simple obstacles.
By starting slow, you’ll stay safe, and that will allow you to keep going on the trails. Beginning on a quiet, short path and small distance means you won’t get lost. Also, you won’t be isolated and away from other people if you need assistance or happy to injure yourself.
After you get going with your workouts, think about trying to go farther. Increase your distance and time at a steady rate of no higher than 10 percent per week. As your training block peaks and race day is just 2 to 3 weeks away, you’ll also want to look at how to taper down your training.
3. Learn the Challenges
I know how tempting it sounds for you experienced runners to hit the trails at full force. However, even if you’ve run on pavement often, you’ll still need to take some time to learn the challenges of trail running.
You should run about 10 to 20 percent slower on trails when compared to running on flatter, more comfortable areas. That’s because trail running provides plenty of obstacles you’ll need to watch out for, from shabby rocks to jagged, sharp, hills.
There are so many challenges to trail running, and you can only expect that your natural gait will slow down in anticipation of obstacles and to keep yourself safe. The first few times you hit a particular trail for a run, you’ll need to take time to get used to it. And after that, you’ll still need to be wary of potential obstacles when you run.
Expect that your pace will slow down when you’re running on the trail versus when you run on pavement. For example, if you run five miles in 50 minutes on the sidewalk, you’ll probably need 60 minutes to run five miles on the trail.
You will get better at trail running the more you hit the trails. That seems like a natural expectation. After all, the more experience you obtain, the more confident you’ll become, and the better you’ll perform when you hit the trails for a run.
4. Purchase Excellent Shoes
You’ll also want to ensure that you purchase an excellent pair of shoes. If you don’t plan on doing anything but short, flat trail running, then you’ll be fine with road shoes. However, if you want to run often and you plan on tacking steep terrain, then you’ll need to invest in a good pair of trail shoes.
High-quality trail shoes are an essential part of your gear if you want to keep yourself healthy and free from injury on the trails. Great trail shoes will protect your feet from sprained ankles, bruises, falls, and all kinds of avoidable injuries.
Running shoes that are made for the trail are designed to be more robust and more durable than road shoes. Trail shoes do a great job of handling the excess wear and tear that running on sharp terrain can bring. Not only that, but you’ll get more stability out of your shoes when you run, and a more robust sole. Especially, consider your type of shoes when running in the winter.
5. Buy High-Quality Gear
While running provides a lot of conveniences when it comes to gear, you’ll still need to ensure that you have some of the necessary items to ensure your safety and comfort while you are on-the-go.
So, make sure you get some high-quality gear that covers at least the basics for equipment. You’ll want to make sure you start with clothing that’s made for running daily. That means making sure you don’t wear cotton and stick with moisture-wicking fabric that will help you stay dry while you sweat.
Just remember, though, that your clothes will need to be more durable than clothes that you wear when running on the pavement. That’s because when you are on the trails, you’ll probably wind up ripping or ruining some article of clothing because of branches and bushes.
Another must-have when it comes to running gear is insect repellent. You need to keep yourself safe from bugs and ticks and getting a water-proof bug spray should help you out with that.
You might want to consider a pair of gaiters to help guard your feet as you run if you find you need it for the terrain and climate you run in. Also, make sure to get reflectors and some flashlight if you tend to run at night.
If you run during the day, make sure you purchase necessities like a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hydration pack.
6. Glance at Those Trails and Prepare
When you’re running, make sure you’re paying attention to where you step. That means you’ll need to glance at those trails now and then for your safety.
Being aware of what’s in front of you on the trail can help you prevent all kinds of injuries since it will help you avoid obstacles. You don’t want to hit a rock with your foot and sprain your ankle or run your leg into a tree log.
So, keep glancing at the trail at least five to fifteen feet in front of you, and don’t let yourself experience distractions. Make sure you keep your focus.
7. Keep Your Knees Up
Another tip that will help you while you hit the trails and run is to keep your knees up. When compared to running on the pavement, you’ll want to lift your knees a bit higher when you’re on the trails.
That’s because lifting your knees will help you avoid tripping over a root or rock and falling. Plus, if you run with your knees up higher, it will be easier for you to avoid obstacles in general.
When you run into a substantial obstacle on the trail, try to overstep it with your knees up. Doing that will help you avoid any harm and keep you happy and safe while running.
8. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
If you plan on hitting the trails often, then you’ll need to make sure hydration plays a role in your adventures. Staying hydrated will help you perform better and stay safe when you’re on the trail.
Since some people trail one in more isolated areas, ensuring that you’ve got a sound hydration system becomes essential. You never, ever want to run out of water when you are on the go.
Make sure you drink, at minimum, 15 to 20 ounces of water per hour of running. However, don’t limit yourself to that. If you feel you need more, then drink more.
Another thing to remember is that you don’t want to wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re probably already getting dehydrated.
9. Bring the Electrolytes
Along with water, don’t forget to bring plenty of electrolytes with you so that you can rehydrate. Electrolytes include minerals that help your muscles recover from your workout, like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium.
Electrolytes will help your body recover from your workout while also regulating your muscle function, blood pH, and water retention. Plus, electrolytes help your body out not only when you are running, but during your daily life in general.
When you bring your water and your electrolytes along with you, you’ll want to make sure that you bring along a good hydration belt or pack. That way, you’ll be able to carry the fluids you need quickly. Stay away from handheld products, though, because they can distract you and take your eyes off the trail. I like to carry a few Nuun tabs.
10. Use Proper Form
You’ll also want to make sure that you learn proper form when you hit the paths so that you stay safe and avoid injury. Also, you don’t want to wind up falling, and the appropriate way can help you stay upright and secure.
To help you develop proper form, make sure you keep your posture excellent while you run. You’ll want to make sure you remember you’re running as an athlete, so keeping your shoulders up, chest open, and core engaged is essential while running. Avoid hunching over or looking down toward your feet.
Also, make sure your stride stays short and quick. A short, rapid pace helps you keep better balance and also betters your reaction time. You’ll need that better reaction time when you’re trying to get around obstacles.
You’ll want to pick your head up higher as well when you’re running and keep your feet underneath your center. That will help you when you are on more challenging terrain.
Also, make sure you use your arms so that you give yourself all of the balance you need while on the trails. Make sure you even swing your arms back and forth to help increase your momentum.
11. Immerse Yourself in a Running Club
If you’re new to trail running, another thing you can do to find good trails and learn a little about your new hobby is to immerse yourself in a running club. By hooking up with a local group of runners and hitting the trails with them, you’ll learn some expert tips from those with plenty of knowledge.
Not only will you learn more about the trails in your local area, but you’ll also learn quite a bit more about running. By running with people that know more about the trails than you, you’re likely to learn quite a bit.
Joining a running club can help you learn where you might have areas for improvement, which will make you a stronger runner. That type of knowledge is priceless. After all, most of us that love running already know that you should always be willing to learn when it comes to running so that you can continuously improve.
If you’re not sure how to hook up with a local running group, try the American Trail Running Association website. They have plenty of info about trails you can hit.
12. Safety First
While it seems like it should be common sense to keep safety in mind, make sure you do. You’ll want to make sure you are paying attention to safety each time you hit the trails.
If you ask most experienced runners, they’ll tell you that safety is more important than achievements. That’s because you don’t want to risk your life or injury when you are out enjoying your hobby.
- Make sure you let somebody know where you are going before you hit the trails, in case something happens. That way, somebody will no to look for you if you don’t show back up on time.
- Take along your cell phone as well, but also make sure you have a map and compass so you can get back home safely. You won’t always get a signal with your cell phone if you tend to go in remote areas.
- Make sure you also bring your ID card with you and include a list of emergency contacts. You’ll want to make sure you have that in case something happens to you.
- Carry bear spray if you are traveling through their habitat.
- Also, if you plan on running for a long time, make sure you pack plenty of water and some food as well. Another good idea is to keep a flashlight on you if you prefer to run when it’s dark outside.
- Make sure you keep your eyes open and stay focused on what’s around you. Use your common sense as much as possible to stay safe.
Also, consider safety around wild animals:
13. Avoid Distractions
Stay free from distractions when you are running. Don’t bring your headphones with you and listen to music. Instead, keep your ears focused on what’s around you.
Also, without your headphones, you’ll be able to enjoy the sounds of nature and the beauty of what’s around you. It’s better to immerse yourself in that than in anything else while you run.
If you have to listen to something while you run, then consider bringing around an audiobook or a podcast, and don’t play it too loud. Make sure you’re looking to something you can handle while you stay focused on the trails.
14. Protect Yourself
Another thing you’ll want to do while on the trails is to protect yourself. There are a few things you can do to approach this correctly.
One thing you can do is run with others. Remember, there is safety in numbers, especially when you run. So, if you run with a friend or a group, you’re more likely to stay safe.
Make sure you watch out for animals. Read up on any wildlife you might come in contact with when you run. Once you know what’s around you, make sure you are prepared in case you come in contact with something.
It’s not a bad idea to bring pepper spray along with you if you are running by yourself and you want to make sure you stay safe. It’s also helpful to keep safety apps on your phone, like bSafe and Road ID.
15. Use Good Etiquette on the Trail
You’ll need to be aware of proper trail etiquette when you run on the trail. You want to make sure you stay safe and keep things civilized.
When you see other people on the trail, be kind and yield to them. Make sure you provide plenty of room if you hear somebody approaching on a narrow road.
Keep yourself aware of your surroundings and other people around you that might be using the trail. People like bikers, trekkers, etc., might be out and about. Make sure you call out the direction you plan on passing them if you hear them coming up on you.
Make sure you keep a distance of around ten feet from others if you are running with a group of people.
Also, if you see anybody else out on the trails, don’t be afraid to stay friendly. After all, you’re likely to see plenty of your kind, (outdoor fanatics) while you’re adventuring outside yourself. So, have fun too!
As a longtime outdoor enthusiast, Dr. Krisitna Nelson has long enjoyed writing about outdoor hobbies and nature. She’s lived in several communities that have outdoor enthusiast clubs, and she has written about outdoor equipment and products for several years.