What Is Trail Running?

In short, trail running is running at the heart of nature. You don’t need to be scaling mountains to go trail running – as long as you’re in nature it counts. 

Trail running is an intense sport activity which combines running and hiking over any unpaved surface. It’s pretty similar to mountain biking and hill running.

Ascents And Descents 

You can go trail running on almost any non-paved surface, but the rugged terrain and climb will involve more than just running. 

When you reach an ascent, you should alternate between walking and running. You may need to use poles to assist you, or use your arms to push on your legs during particularly steep sections. 


While descending, watch your footfolds as you’ll want to land on your forefoot to cushion the impact. Use your arms for balance and embrace the slope. Take it easy but have fun navigating the terrain. 

How Does Trail Running Differ From Road Running? 

Whilst road running, you are running over a flat and paved surface. However, when you’re trail running the terrain is constantly changing. You will run over rocks and through mud and grass. The importance of trail running is that you’re moving outdoors in the fresh air of nature. 

Where To Go Trail Running

If you live in a rural area, you should have no problem finding somewhere to go trail running. If you live in an urban area you may have to travel a little further to get to a trail route – but don’t let that put you off as it’s a very rewarding and freeing experience. 

Just remember to only use known trails, so look out for known trail walks/locations. Always know your route before you go trail running as the last thing you want is to get lost in nature and not know how to get back. Make sure your phone is fully charged before you go in case you run (pardon the pun) into some trouble. 

Is Trail Running Good For You?

There are a lot of health benefits associated with trail running such as improved plyometrics (muscle strength), stronger core, and it can alleviate joint pressure. It’s also a great cardio workout which burns lots of calories, but is also lots of fun. 

How To Prepare For Trail Running 

Getting yourself ready to go trail running takes more than just finding and learning a route. You’ll need to work on building up your core strength as well as doing strength conditioning training before you head off of the tracks. This will help you eliminate the risk of injury, and get the most out of your runs. 

Before you start trail running, first try running on unpaved surfaces. Countryside paths and city parks are a great place to start. The bumpy terrain is pretty similar to trail terrain and will help you build strength and improve your technique, compared to the repetitive surface of  road running. 

How To Pick The Right Trail For You 

New Runners 

As a new runner you’ll want to look out for wide dirt trails, cinder paths and rail trails. 

These trails aren’t too dissimilar in difficulty to road running, but they’re away from traffic. They’re also pretty good for new runners as they’re softer surface is easier on the joints than running on concrete, which will help if you feel achy after a run. 

Also, it’s always good to try out new routes as running should be an adventure as sticking to the same paths all the time can cause boredom. 

Try heading out for a 20 to 30 minute run, making sure you alternate between running and walking. 

Those Prone to Injuries 

If you’re prone to getting injured whilst exercising, look out for softer surfaces like grass, wood chips and dirt. If you feel comfortable, you can even try out technical trails which include rocks and roots.

These softer surfaces are less likely to cause or aggravate any injuries as your joints and muscles will take less of a pounding. It’s also good to try out hilly trails as this will slow you down and will be less forceful. Technical trails will use different muscles than road running and will help build strength, which will help against sustaining more injuries.

As a workout, try a short 15 to 20 minute run at first as you don’t want any injuries to flare up. 

Treadmill Runners 

If your running workout is usually done on a machine, look for flat dirt, gravel or cinder paths. 

Treadmills are useful for those who want to get a workout in, but don’t have much time. However, it can be better to get out into the fresh air to exercise, and can actually improve your mood. 

As a workout, go for time instead of mileage. Don’t let pace stress you out as trails will always take longer compared to standard running. 

Road Runner 

As a regular road runner, you’ll want to look out for nontechnical trails, but look for some with challenging inclines and declines to push yourself. 

The uphill/downhill and varying terrain will force you to run at different paces and it will really challenge you – in a good way. Running a trail is a form of interval training without you having to pay attention to your watch or focus on your distance. The softer surfaces will provide you with some relief, as regular road running can cause strain-related injuries. 

As a workout try running uphill with maximum effort, but using the downhill as a recovery. 

How To Stay Safe Trail Running 

Even the most experienced trail runners get into trouble from time to time. Here are some top tops to keep yourself safe whilst trail running:

  • Stay in touch: When trying out a new trail, go with someone who already has experience running it. Make sure you have your phone, a map and a whistle. If you’re going solo, let someone know what route you’re taking. 
  • Think about time, not distance: on average, experienced trail runners cover six miles in one hour. 
  • Fuel yourself: Bring food – like energy bars – even on shorter runs, just in case you end up in the woods longer than you expected. Also keep yourself hydrated by taking small, frequent sips of water. 
  • Check the weather: At higher altitudes, the temperature can change pretty quickly, and storms can roll in. In summer, bring a hat and a lightweight water-resistant jacket. Always wear sunscreen too. 
  • Look after your feet: If you want to regularly trail run, invest in some trail shoes as they have more traction and will protect your feet from rocks and roots.