Tired of running on the roads or pavements? Maybe it is time to shift to trail running in the woods nearby. For most people used to the dreary and boring pavement running, the transition to trail running can be almost therapeutic.
If the trail is good enough, you will enjoy running in a cool and fresh environment where you can explore the scenery, commune with nature and have some little peace all by yourself free from the stares and interference by passers by.
Trail running is not just about the quiet, nature and peace. It will also transform you into a better and more determined runner. There is a reason why some of the world’s best athletes practice on off-road trails or in the woods.
As you run in this kind of surrounding, and surmount various kinds of trail obstacles, you quickly learn how to intuitively maintain balance, stabilise yourself and change course as quickly as possible based on the demands of the trail. This level of challenge forces you to be adaptable and develop a high level of endurance; skills that you would otherwise not develop in a smooth pavement.
Trail running is not for everyone
Not every runner is willing to take the challenge of trail running and develop it into a long lasting habit but it is never too late to begin. Running successfully on rough trails is not just about testing the limits of your endurance; you also need to invest in good trail running gear including good trail running shoes, shades that will protect your eyes from the elements and objects as well as a GPS watch or fitness tracker to serve as your guide and for timekeeping purposes.
The Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running: How to get started
#1 Find the Right Trail Running Gear
Trail Running Shoes
The shoes are the most important piece of gear that you will need for your trail running needs. The type of shoes that you buy will also depend on the type of terrain that you wish to surmount. If it is made largely of gravel, your road-running shoes would do. For the more traditional terrain consisting of slippery mud, twigs or pieces of rock, you will need good trail running shoes that have been designed for the purpose.
Trail running shoes tend to have greater traction and they tend to be beefier than your typical road-running shoes. They are designed to ensure maximum stability and foot protection in an unpredictable terrain. A better analogy is to compare the tyres of cars used in off-road driving versus highway driving; the former are generally more rugged and robust to take in the rough terrain.
Not all trail running shoes are the same. Even within this beefy category, you will find a variety of designs with varying levels of terrain ranging from the easier and smoother terrains to those suited for the more rugged and variable terrain.
For colder and wetter climates make sure to get a pair of waterproof trail running shoes to avoid wet feet and discomfort.
Other trail running shoe designs are generally more minimalist and are designed to give you a “feel” of the terrain while also offering you the required cushioning for maximum comfort and to minimize impact joints. One characteristic of all trail running shoes, whether robust or minimalist, is that they have been designed for maximum traction on the trail.
If you are trail running in a more familiar terrain, then you probably won’t need this. In more unfamiliar settings, you will need to invest in a good GPS watch or a fitness tracker with GPS functions that will help you retrace your way back to your home or hotel.
This can be quite useful if you are trail running in a new city or environment. Some of the popular GPS fitness watches on the market come with extra cool features such as various metrics that are specific to trail running and which will enhance your performance on the trail.
Choose the right Clothing
Trail running wear should have good venting with great moisture-wicking capabilities. Choose clothing made from synthetic materials or moisture-wicking wool. Don’t use cotton shirts!
If you will be taking longer runs where there is unpredictable weather, it is advisable to dress up in layers. As you experience varying degrees of discomfort on your runs, you can shed off or put on the layers of clothing and smoothly manage your comfort throughout the trail.
For maximum comfort, consider buying clothing that is breathable. Running, even in cool weather, will make you feel hot and sweat a lot. The clothing that you wear should be breathable otherwise you are likely to experience extreme discomfort on your trail runs and might even faint from the heat.
Less breathable clothing will also increase your levels of exhaustion and limit the amount of distance you can cover on your runs. The ideal clothing would be one that is breathable and quick drying. These are generally made of synthetic materials or wool blends.
If you are trail running in an area with cooler weather, you can wear a windbreaker for extra warmth. In wet conditions, wear a waterproof running jacket on top.
Either go for running shorts or tights. Running tights are ideally suited for trail running in cooler weather. Choose one that offers excellent support without any restrictiveness. Good tights provide an extra layer of protection agains insect bites and stinging plants.
A Protective Cap
Choose a nice trail running cap with an excellent moisture wicking fabric. This should also offer you some sun protection on the trail. If you are inclined, you can go for something more stylish such as a designer cap that will make you stand out in the crowd.
Don’t forget to wear a pair of quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging UV rays and from little insects that otherwise might land in your eyes. Sunglasses are also a great protection against low hanging branches.
Pair of socks
You may want to wear your trail-running shoes with an appropriate pair of socks. Don’t use cotton socks to avoid blisters. Go for synthetic socks or a high quality wool blend. Choose something that is breathable, comfortable and also durable. It is good to have at least two pairs.
If you run in the woods a lot, consider wearing low-cut gaitors to prevent dirt, rocks, pine needles or even snow from entering your shoes.
#2 Carry Enough Water
Unless you will be running very short trails, you will need lots of water to replenish all the water that you lose from perspiration when trail running. You can carry some water in a small handheld water bottle or go with the hydration packs and hydration vests. Another water-carrying option when you are out trail-running is using a waistpack that contains water bottles.
The water carrying option that you choose will depend on the intensity of your trail running. If you like shorter busts of trail running, a small handheld bottle of water or a small waistpack will be sufficient. A waistpack would be ideal as it leaves sufficient space to carry some energy bars, cash for an emergency and even your house keys.
For the longer and more enduring runs, choose a bigger waistpack or hydration pack that can hold more water and also store lots of other items such as food, basic first aid items, navigation aids and any other extras that you will need during your trip. The hydration packs should be the narrower types that allow you to move with ease.
#3 How to get started with Trail Running
It is generally recommended that you get started on a milder note. Before you hit the deep terrain, make sure you are physically and psychologically prepared for the challenge. A milder terrain can serve as a primer before you hit the more challenging trails.
You can start with a cross country track or even a bike track. Pick a flat terrain and once you feel comfortable, move on to rougher terrain.
Join a Trail Running Group
If you are just getting started, consider signing up for a trail running group via a platform such as Meetup.com, Sierra Club or even local Facebook groups. When you are trail running with other people, you will always have running partners to pick you up, motivate you and you won’t get lost.
It might be intimidating for a beginner to join a well established trail running group but they often comprise friendly, helpful and accommodating people who will be willing to help to get your act together.
Remember to stay safe when trail running especially if you will be scaling some of the more remote trails. If you are planning to go trail running in a more remote location that you are unfamiliar with, make sure you tell someone where you are headed and carry with you a map and a cellphone so that you can call for help when you are stuck. Do prior research to determine if the place is generally safe for trail running.
Most people like running with headphones but in a trail that you are unfamiliar with, it is best to stay well tuned to your surroundings. So make sure you leave that headphone home. It is not just a question of safety; staying attuned to your natural surroundings is good for your mental and physical health.
Do not be distracted from the trail. Watch where you are headed and where you are stepping. Try as much as possible to be aware of your surroundings. The best position for your gaze when you are trail running is to look right ahead of you to avoid tripping on the protruding roots, fallen branches and twigs. Make a note of the various trail markers on your path.
#4 Take it a Step at a Time
While pavement running is often about competition, with trail running, you are really competing against yourself and testing your limits of endurance. So take it a bit slow. Keep a safe and comfortable distance from other trail runners and avoiding whizzing past people. Try to enjoy yourself as much as possible.
The best way to view trail running is as a personal challenge. You are not simply measuring your pace or speed but trying celebrating the freedom and liberty that comes with confidently hitting the outdoors.
Generally, runners, even the more experienced ones, tend to be slower on the trails. That is not just because of the “enjoyment” factor. The truth is that trails are generally more challenging, often muddy and with lots of obstacles that will constantly slow your down. A slow but sure approach will also means you can go farther and build a greater endurance for longer distance trail running.
#5 Find Your Trail Running Highs
Trail running is a difficult and often tiring physical activity. Without sufficient motivation or an accountability partner, you are likely to give up fairly easily. The best way to maintain the tempo is by finding some internal inspirations that keeps you scaling the trails on a regular basis. Try to find your “high” on the trail. It could be the people you are running with, the beautiful scenery or simply the adrenaline rush you get as you hammering through the trails.
Trail running should not just be a physical effort; try to engage yourself both mentally and emotionally into the activity. This will transform it into an addiction or habit. There are those special moments on the trails that trigger your highs on the trail; recreate those scenes and moments in order to build your trail running addiction. With time, you should be comfortable on the trail keeping fit and getting some quiet time in natural surroundings for some introspection.