Trail running is widely regarded as simply running on unpaved surfaces; uneven, often muddy terrain that is littered with tree roots and loose rocks with the route guided by the lay of the land. Purists might say that it has to be remote too, but for the most part - as long as the majority of your route is off-road - you’ll have tackled some trail running.
If this is something you are keen to get involved in, you can - and quite easily too - so we thought we’d share a few pointers to help get you started, whether you are a seasoned road runner or a complete rookie.
The Right Footwear
There is no need to run out (pun intended) and spend a fortune on the latest and greatest trail running shoes but it is important to have the right footwear. Trail running shoes have a few extra features some of which are highlighted below, these will help you avoid injury and considerable foot fatigue:
- Sole protection plate – this will stop pointy rocks and tree roots digging into the sole of your feet
- Aggressive lugs – these dig into the softer ground to help reduce slipping
- Toe protection – this offers better durability to the front of your shoe as well as extra protection should you strike your toe
Build Yourself Up
Even if you are a runner, avoid doing too much, too fast, too soon. Completing more manageable trails regularly will build the right muscles up more effectively, helping you avoid injury when progressing on to more technical trails or those with longer distances.
If you are already an established road runner you’ll have an idea of how long it will take you to do certain distances on the road. Don’t be discouraged when your trail time is considerably slower, this is due to the fact you have a lot more to contemplate before every step on changeable terrain. Trail running requires a different technique that uses muscles you perhaps don’t normally work.
Find Your Local Trails
Even if you live in a city, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find your local trails. Parks and reserves are great for getting started; you likely won’t have to travel far to get to them making them easily accessible throughout the week. Training on these will benefit you when you do make a point of traveling further afield to tackle more challenging routes.
Fuelling is a key aspect of any type of exercise. If there is a chance you could be on the trail for a while, it is important to take a high energy snack or two as well as some fluids for you to refuel. It is unlikely you’ll come across resources when trail running and it’s always better to have and not need than to need and not have.
Run in Daylight
When discovering trails for the first time, it’s often best to stick to running during daylight hours. The terrain underfoot is unpredictable and it’s good to get to know the surrounding areas before heading off into the night.
When you do eventually opt for a night run, it is imperative that you take a quality head torch with sufficient charge to get you home. Additionally, you should wear bright clothing with reflective details that will make you more visible to others.
As with all sports, there are certain behaviours that are accepted and others that aren’t. Take a little time to become aware of these, below we have highlighted some key points that should be kept in mind while on the trail:
- Give way to those faster than you, whether it is other runners, bikes or horses
- Avoid startling fellow trail users, a simple “On your right” as you approach will suffice
- Take away anything you have taken in
- Remain alert and considerate to others, keep headphone volume low or avoid it altogether
- Stay on trail to avoid further erosion to potentially sensitive habitats
- Consider the weather - if conditions are particularly difficult make sure you are appropriately equipped
- Support others’ accomplishments, no matter how much further or faster you have run
Trail running is a great way to improve your fitness, but it’s worth considering that there are other exercises that will improve your trail running. Working out with resistance bands and weights at home can help you focus on specific areas of your body that you feel need developing.
- Core workouts for stability
- Leg workouts for power
- Ankle workouts for strength
Gadgets & Training Apps
The development of technology has seen a significant rise in personal performance monitoring. GPS watches, heart rate monitors and fitness tracking apps like Strava can be a great incentive to help you reach your goals while online communities can be inspiring and add healthy competition but it’s important that you listen to your body first and foremost.
Let Someone Know Before You Go
When heading out to more remote areas, or even just your local trails, be sure to let someone know where you are heading and when to expect you back. That way, if you do come into difficulties they’ll have an idea of roughly where to find you, relying on the chance of a passer-by when trail running will likely be in vain.