Last summer I was fortunate enough to spend the summer travelling up the east coast of Australia and the west coast of America. It involved many nights sleeping in tents and the back of camper vans, lots of campfires and hundreds of kilometers of hiking and trail running. It was the first time I was exposed to any amount of trail running, and I fell in love. I craved the challenging hill runs, the tree covered narrow trails and that sweaty, post run feeling as I emerged out of the woods. To be honest, I’m really missing it this summer and only getting to go a few times a week on the one trail near my house just isn’t quite the same. If you’re ready to challenge yourself and try something different, go find a trail and start trail running. Here’s a few things to remember to get you started:
Shoes – I ran much of my earlier trails in regular road runners, mostly because I was travelling and it’s all that I had. I don’t recommend it. If you are going to do any amount of trail running, definitely invest in a pair of trail shoes. They have treads designed for the rougher terrain and are made of more trail friendly materials. Do some research, and if you need some help check out Rock Creek Runner for some recommendations, and some great trail running tips and information.
Watch your feet – I was nearing the end of an awesome, hilly 12 kilometer route just outside Mount Rainier National Park when I tripped on a rock hidden underneath some plants on the trail and skidded to a stop using my hands, chest and legs as brakes. Trails aren’t like the road where you can get lost in your own thoughts and not really pay any attention to your feet or where you are going. Every step is different, changes and branches, animals, rocks and roots will pop up in front of you all the time. Don’t let your thoughts or eyes wonder, and pay extra close attention to the trail in front of you.
Know your route – After a while, unless there are significant landmarks that you will be passing, all trails start to look the same. And there’s often lots of trails off your running trail that will also look the same. Follow trail markers, a map, or set up some way of ensuring that you stay on the right trail, and more importantly know how to return back to where you started.
Be prepared – What if you get lost? What if you get injured? What if you lose your Garmin and don’t know how far you have run? Okay, well maybe the latter isn’t actually the biggest problem, but trail running isn’t like being on the road where you can just stop at the nearest house or store and ask for directions. If you aren’t on a popular trail, it could be a long time before you see anybody else to ask for directions or to offer you help. Assume you will have to do it all by yourself and prepare accordingly. This doesn’t mean to take a whole first aid kit, and your tent and mattress, but if you are going out for any distance, consider what you need to take to ensure your optimal safety and safe return.
Wear the right clothes – trails are not the place to wear any clothes with anything hanging off that is likely to get caught, and they’re not the place to wear anything white! Because trust me: you’re going to get dirty. And really hot and sweaty. Invest in some good trail running shorts and a t-shirt that are made of moisture wicking material – no cotton allowed! Consider purchasing a shirt that offers UPF protection if you will be running in sunnier climates or a long sleeve shirt if you are in an area with a lot of branches, thorns or other plants that may end up hitting you in the arms.
It’s okay if you’re slower than your road running – The first few times I went out on the trails I was really frustrated by how slow I seemed to be. My time was longer than what I was used to, while my distance was shorter, and it made me feel really discouraged. But then I realized that I’m running on rough, uneven terrain, up a lot of hills – sometimes mountains – and am paying way closer attention to my footing rather than just landing like every step is the same as it is on the road. You are going to be slower at trail running than road running (at least at first), and that’s totally okay. As you get used to it you get faster, but regardless, you get a much better workout and get to challenge yourself and your running abilities way more. And challenge can only lead to growth and improvement!
Watch the elements – Weather, UV rating, animal sightings. Be aware of your surroundings when you leave, knowing that you are going to be fully exposed to all of the elements. Consider things like forecasted thunderstorms, recent bear or wildlife sightings in the area and high UV levels. Once you know what you are going into, you can plan accordingly and make sure it is safe for you to head out.
Water – Depending on how long you are going to run for and the amenities of the trail, you may want to invest in a water bladder. These are large water bags that fit into a specific backpack that you can carry on your back and have water readily available for you. They’re great if you are going on a long run, it’s really hot out, or you are going somewhere that you know has minimal access to clean drinking water. Plus, you can shove a few little snacks in the pack as well!
Most of the time, you’ll probably head out on a trail the same as you would your regular road route, with your trail shoes and running clothes and not need to worry about much else. But long distance trail running, or tail running in remote, less travelled areas brings with it a new set of risks which are important to consider before you set out. When you can, it’s great to take a running partner along and at the very least, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back!
Have you ever gone trail running? What advice would you give to runners new to the trails?