How to Start Trail Running

For people who love the outdoors and want to explore the hidden trails of hills and mountains, trail running is one of the best hobbies for you.

It’s essentially very similar to normal running, with the caveat that most of the route that is followed happens on a hiking trail or other hill/mountain trail that is often unpaved.

While it isn’t a requirement of hill running for the route to be unpaved it’s very common, making trail running an excellent choice for runners who want to get away from the mundane streets and parks that constitute most running routes.

Despite its relative simplicity, many people find trail running a little confusing and difficult to get into, so in this guide, we’re going to provide you with some helpful tips and advice on how to start trail running, and how to get the most out of this amazing hobby.

Start Slowly and Build

Much like with any new form of exercise or sport, starting slowly is key to avoiding serious injury, or ruining your motivation.

While trail running will be much easier if you’re already relatively fit and like to run a lot, but there are unique challenges posed by trail running that will cause most runners some issues as they begin this style of running. 

The truth is that most running takes place on relatively flat and even surfaces. Trail running however ventures into the hills and mountains, and there are extremely challenging inclines and descents that will work your body and muscles in a way that they have never been worked before.

Learning to negotiate your way through rough terrain is also a skill and can take a huge toll on both your ankles, knees, and hips as well as your concentration, and it’s a skill that takes some time to gain confidence in.

The best way to avoid setbacks is to start slowly on a relatively easy route and build the strength and skill you need to tackle more ambitious routes.

Join a Club

Trail running can be dangerous, and it can also be difficult to work out good routes. One of the best ways to get assistance, particularly if you’re a total beginner, is to join a trail running club.

These clubs will be run by experienced trial runners and will open you up to a wider range of routes, and make it much safer to run as well as more fun in the company of like-minded people.

This is a great way to make friends and to gain motivation, as you will be running not only for the thrill and exercise but for the social aspect also.

Clubs will often have structured routes and be well organized making them a fantastic place to start building confidence and learning more about trail running.

Learn the Route

If you do plan to start trail running solo, make absolutely sure you know your route well and have planned it meticulously. Ideally, you should have walked the route and be familiar with the terrain to make sure you are going to be safe and able to avoid any obstacles or issues.

It’s also a great idea to leave your route plan clearly marked with estimated timings for a friend or family member because if you get injured or stuck this will make it much easier for people to rescue you should you become stranded.

This will help minimize a range of risks and make you much safer, especially in more inhospitable areas.

Don’t Look at Your Feet

Looking ahead instead of at your feet is critical in trail running, as you need to be able to prepare your speed and balance for constantly changing and uneven terrain. Being able to plan your speed and cadence in advance of the terrain is a key safety concern and will make a huge difference to your confidence on the trail.
This can take some getting used to but it’s a very important technique for trail running.

Use the Right Gear

Using the correct gear is critical for your safety and enjoyment. Proper trail running shoes are very important to give you adequate traction and grip while you’re running a trail, and additional kit such as water, compression shorts, and a good sweat-wicking shirt are all the minimum a trail runner should be taking on shorter trips.

Take Hills Easily (Both Uphill And Downhill)

Pacing yourself while you tackle a kill is very important to avoid burning out, cramping or losing your footing.

A steady, balanced and controlled pace is safest and will also get you to the top more quickly than a burst of speed and having to slow or stop completely due to exhaustion.

Stretch and Warm-Up

Warming your body up before you begin is very important to avoid injuries, which are more common while trail running.
Take some time at the beginning and end of your route to stretch and warm up your muscles to make them more efficient.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is key with any form of exercise, and this is no different with trail running.

Not all runners bring water with them but this is highly recommended as the trails you run will be very difficult and it’s better to be safe should you underestimate the difficulty of your route.

Get Plenty of Rest

Trail running is an incredibly difficult and demanding form of exercise and it’s really important to get adequate rest before you attempt it.

A good amount of sleep, good food, and proper recovery times must be observed to make trail running a viable and sustainable form of exercise. If you don’t abide by these rules you will almost certainly end up hurting yourself or causing injury to your muscles.