Trail running guide
Trail running is a challenging endurance sport, but it’s not something beginners—newbie athletes and regular individuals—cannot learn and appreciate. As challenging as it is, it also has lots to offer: An opportunity to hone your running skills, improve your physical fitness, and discover the wonders of nature. Try the adventure and challenge trail running offers with our beginner’s guide.
What’s Trail Running?
Trail running is an endurance sport that combines the principles of running and hiking and highlights the challenges of natural terrain, so it’s usually done on ‘unpaved’ or ‘uneven’ surfaces like deserts, mountains, and forests. It can be done anywhere in areas that are not surfaced or paved.
According to the International Trail Running Association (ITRA), trail running is a pedestrian race open to everyone and done in a natural environment with minimal paved or asphalt road. The course and terrain may vary, but the general rule is that the total paved or surfaced areas should not exceed 20% of the total route.
Who Oversees Trail Running?
ITRA is the main governing body of trail running across the globe. Established in 2013, ITRA gives a voice to parties involved in trail running to “promote its strong values, diversity, the safety of races, and the health of runners, as well as to further the development of trail running and ensure a constructive dialogue between the national and international bodies with an interest in the sport”.
ITRA works closely with various organizations to help champion fun, safe, and healthy mountain, ultra, and trail running and to further advocate for trail access and promote competitive programs for runners of all ages and abilities. Some of these organizations are the US Mountain Running Team, Trail Sisters, the World Mountain Running Association, the US Trail Running Conference, the Collegiate Running Association, the USA Track & Field, and the International Skyrunning Federation.
Is Trail Running Safe?
Trail running, in itself, is a safe endurance sport. The dangers and risks will depend on the course and location of the activity, as well as other external factors involving equipment, gear, and natural hazards. To ensure safety every time you trail run, the key is always preparation. Trail running is safe as long as one takes the necessary precautions and follows safety practices.
Here are some safety practices every trail runner should follow:
Wear Proper Trail Running Gear
Trail running only requires minimal gear. You can already start training with a good pair of trail running shoes and a comfortable set of clothing. Expensive or high-end shoes are not required, but having the correct shoes can improve your training and lessen the risks of injury. Wearing comfortable clothing perfect for the kind of weather you plan to run in can also improve your training and experience. Sports clothing that is quick-dry and made with synthetic or wool are the best option.
Aside from a good pair of running shoes, here are some essentials and miscellaneous items that can help you achieve a seamless training and running experience:
- Nutrition Pack
- Compass / GPS device
- First-aid kit
- Heart-rate monitor
- Sun-protection essentials like sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and sun sleeves
Which Trail Running Shoes Should I Buy?
Dedicated trail running shoes often have a stronger outsole made with durable and “sticky” rubber to offer better traction on harsh and uneven surfaces with dirt, mud, rocks, and other debris. They also usually have a rock plate in the middle sole, the very thing that absorbs the impact from the underside of your foot.
To choose the right shoes, assess the type of trails you plan to run on and how often you plan to trail run. You can choose between light, rugged, and off-trail running shoes. Light is for trails with relatively uniform surfaces, such as gravel paths and rolling hills. Rugged trail running shoes offer better protection in broader terrains, allowing versatility. Off-trail running shoes, meanwhile, have aggressive protection features for extremely challenging terrains.
Next, consider the comfort through the cushioning level of the shoes. There are trail running shoes with barefoot, minimal, moderate, and maximum cushion. You can transition from one cushioning level to another, depending on your needs and preferences.
Last but not the least is the fit, which is probably the most important factor to consider. For this one, you need to consider your arch shape length, as well as foot volume. Get a fit assessment if you can, and don’t assume your shoe size based on other types of footwear that you have. The trail running shoes should provide adequate length and width in the toe box to avoid discomfort.
Check The WeatherAlways keep an eye on the weather before you run and during your run. Temperatures and weather conditions can change quickly, especially in mountainous areas. Knowing the weather of the day will allow you to pick the appropriate trail running gear and clothing and gauge the safety of the running trail.
Plan Your RouteDon’t train or trail run in an area you know nothing about or even in areas you’re familiar with but have challenging trails without a plan. Your plans involve your route. They can be simple or complex, depending on the distance, location, and difficulty level of the running trail. Research and plan your route using a map and determine your running trail and distance to complete.
Trail Run With SomeoneIf you’re in an unfamiliar area or a vast running trail, always trail run with a companion. Your friends or other trail runners can always provide support and safety in case you need it. Emergencies and accidents may happen during your run. A solo trail run experience can be amazing, but it’s only advisable for seasoned trail runners who can always find their way back to civilization. If you think you’re ready to trail run solo, tell someone about your route, date of the run, and date of return. In case there’s an emergency, they will know where to look.
Carry Enough Fluids And NutritionHydrate and fuel yourself as needed during your run. Remember, you’ll be far away from civilization when you enter the running trail, so you won’t have easy access to food and water. Carry enough or plenty of fluids and nutrition that can cover the duration of your run, especially water, energy snacks, energy drinks, and other calorie-rich food that can help your body replenish and recover.
How To Start Trail Running?There are many reasons to encourage yourself to start trail running. The endurance sport, for one, can help you improve your running form and capabilities. It can aid you in your training for your main sports activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, and extreme endurance sports like triathlon. Trail running also offers opportunities to explore various places close to nature—the outdoors that you’ve never seen before. As such, the best time to start trail running is now. And here’s how:
Find Familiar Trails to ExploreAlways start with the familiar. Choose an area you already know—somewhere around your neighborhood or the next best town. There are trail running locations almost anywhere; you just have to research properly and be creative. Start with relatively even terrain with no high elevation near your area.
Join Trail Running Clubs or OrganizationsIf you just started trail running or are new to the idea of trail running, don’t run alone. Bring companions with you on a short trail run. It’s much better, of course, to join trail running clubs or organizations with like-minded people and seasoned trail runners. These clubs are led by experienced runners who can guide you every step of the way—from organizing small and huge training to choosing the best location for beginners and advanced trail runners.
Run at A Sustainable PaceTrail running, like any other endurance sport and leisure activity, can’t guarantee a linear experience. So start at a slow, sustainable pace where you can manage your expectations and ensure progress since trail running will always require you to run at different locations with different elevations at different speeds. Your pace will vary, depending on the running trail.
Prepare for Changes and Improvisation
Trail running requires you to discover nature, including its beauty and challenges. Every running trail you’ll encounter will be different, so prepare for changes and improvisation as you face each trail. Adopt a flexible mindset.
Take this advice from Sarah Lavender Smith, a trail running coach and author of ‘The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras’, regarding flexibility and improvisation when trail running: “One of the keys to success in trail running is adapting to conditions and keeping a flexible mindset. Sometimes you have to improvise to get up and down the mountain. Whether it’s sliding on your butt or putting on a full-on gear with hiking poles, the trail teaches us to adapt and troubleshoot.”
Train for Trail RunningImprove your physical fitness and capabilities before you start trail running and as you progress. Trail running requires strength and agility combined. You need to prepare your body for unstable surfaces and elevation changes. For this, you can start with strength training—lower-body exercises for developing muscular endurance and core training for overall balance.
Does Trail Running Make You Run Faster?
Contrary to popular belief, trail running is not just a leisure activity and endurance sport similar to hiking. It can actually offer various physical benefits that can change one’s form and abilities as an athlete. Trail running can actually make you a better and faster runner because of the challenges it presents. Running up and down uneven terrains and steep slopes requires coordination, balance, strength, and agility, so it can truly improve your speed and endurance over time.
Trail Running VS. Other Types of Running
Trail running follows the principles of running and hiking. Since it appears to be a hybrid of two sports activities, people often compare trail running to other types of running—understanding the similarities and differences, together with opportunities and challenges