How to Get Started With Trail Running

HOW TO GET STARTED TRAIL RUNNING

Trail running requires minimal equipment, but this high-intensity workout does require some planning and forethought. If you choose to run far from the trailhead in wilderness areas, you need to be prepared to deal with injury, wildlife, and other athletes such as mountain bikers. If you are new to trail running, consider following local trails near to home so you can grow familiar with your own limits.

Knowing your limits as a trail runner will help you plan trips within your ability and allow you to carry less equipment. Try trail running and enjoy nature as you run around obstacles, take on steep climbs, and breathe clean air.

TRAIL TYPES

Technical: Includes narrow trails with a dirt or rocky base. Technical terrain requires you to navigate each step around fallen trees, streams, rocks, roots, etc. The higher elevation you climb to, the larger the rocks and boulders get.

Non-Technical: Includes dirt or gravel trails that are generally straightforward and have little in the way of high-stepping, dead fall, or rocky ground. 

TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED TRAIL RUNNING

1.       Before setting off into the wild, try training with obstacles on regular paths and roads. By incorporating regular obstacles like curbs, barriers, and other items into your run you’ll begin to build the variety of muscles in your feet, ankles and legs required to deftly maneuver around a constant stream of obstacles like you’ll experience on most trails.

2.       Change up your shoe style from one training day to the next in order to help build a variety of muscles in your feet, ankles and legs. Different shoes with different levels of support will require your body to adjust the striking position of your feet, over time building new muscles.

3.       Hill training is extremely important in trail running preparation due to the extreme variation in terrain you’ll encounter. You don’t need to hit the hills every day but ensure you incorporate intensive hill training at least once a week.

4.       Cross-training is a great way to ensure you have the muscles needed to stay balanced while running over uneven terrain. Lunges, hops, and core workouts will make keeping your pace up across challenging terrain much easier.

CARING FOR YOUR EQUIPMENT

Trail running equipment is an investment in what you enjoy most: time in the outdoors. Make sure you care for your equipment to get years of enjoyment from it.

Before you go:

  • Make sure the trail is in a regulated park that allows public access and that you won’t be causing any damage to natural surroundings.
  • Check your activity tracker and other electronics for battery power.
  • Check the weather and trail conditions for your destination and make sure they are favourable for your level of experience and ability.
  • Read your trail description and make a copy of it along with the section of the map you need. Put these in a waterproof bag in your hydration or waist pack.
  • Leave a trip plan with a trusted friend or family member.

After your trip:

  • Clean the inside and outside of your shoes. Remove insoles and allow them to dry separately.
  • Empty everything out of your pack and allow it to dry.
  • If you use a hydration backpack, empty it out completely and blow water out of the hose. Place the hose inside the reservoir with the lid open to allow air to circulate and dry the inside.

YOUR ATMOSPHERE: PRESERVE THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Run on established trails.
  • Make noise as you run to let animals know you are approaching.
  • Do not dispose of wrappers, toilet paper, or any other garbage on the trail. Pack it out with you.
  • Run through puddles, not around. Running around puddles further erodes the trail into the surrounding area.

CHOOSING TRAIL RUNNING SHOES

Trail running shoes combine the motion control and stability of a typical running shoe with the traction and durability of a hiking boot.

Trail runners take shorter strides than road runners to keep the majority of weight directly over their feet and also to make recovering from a small misstep easier as at least one foot is close to the ground at all times. This helps to keep you balanced on uneven terrain.  

When choosing shoes, consider the following:

1)      Where do you want to run?

                a.       On more technical trails, or less technical? With loose dirt or mud?

                b.      What will the weather conditions be? Wet or dry?

2)      Shoe Fit & Foot Type

                a.       What type of foot do you have? Determine this through measurements of arch, etc.

                b.      What type of runner are you? Pronator or underpronator? 

Shoe Fit Tip: Your trail running shoes should not be all that different from your regular road running shoes in terms of fit. Trail running shoes simply need to provide better traction and support for your feet and ankles (along with waterproofing). The degree of traction and support necessary depends on what types of trails you plan to run.

PREPARATION TIPS

  • Trail runners rarely carry large backpacks filled with survival essentials. If you start by running close to home, you will gain confidence in your endurance and ability to run farther without carrying extra supplies.
  • Don’t wear head phones. You need to be alert to your surroundings.
  • Take a map and GPS if you plan to travel into the backcountry. A paper copy of a trail guide is lightweight and easy to carry.
  • Take all the water you need. Streams and rivers are not always a reliable source of clean water.
  • Regular backpacks bounce around too much to be comfortable while running. Choose a running-specific hydration pack or waist pack to minimize this irritating bounce.
  • Be prepared to encounter wildlife. Runners often sneak up on animals that, in turn, don’t have time to react calmly. Some trails may require bear spray, and a bear bell is always a good idea.
  • Be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. 

POST-RUN RECOVERY TIPS

First, something to remember is that trail running can actually aid in recovery from pain and injury caused by too much road running. Trails are softer than concrete and that soft dirt absorbs some of the shock every time you strike the ground, giving your feet, ankles and legs a break.

Trail running is also less repetitive than road running due to the variations in elevation and terrain. This means you’ll be doing less of the exact same motion and will reduce the chances of repetition injuries (specifically on your joints).

Because you’ll be working a lot of different muscles (core, back, oblique muscles), there are different ways of aiding recovery after long, strenuous trail runs:

  • Eat and hydrate properly within 30 minutes of finishing.
  • Try taking a warm bath and include Epsom salts if possible, absorbing these salts through your skin can improve blood flow and help your body recover faster. Be sure to read the instructions on the Epsom salt package and read up on best practices for Epsom salt baths (paying attention to proper duration and the amount of salt to use).
  • Wear compression socks to increase blood flow to injured areas and provide support to surrounding muscles and joints. Some athletes wear compression socks during their runs as well as afterwards. Compression apparel offers enormous advantages but to understand how to best utilize this type of performance garment it’s important to do some research into its benefits for yourself.

TRAIL RUNNING CLOTHING & EQUIPMENT

TRAIL RUNNING ESSENTIALS

     Off-season cross-training for trail running: Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing and hiking all work similar muscle groups as trail running and will keep you in shape for next season.