Trail running, at its core, is no different than any other kind of running. It takes a lot of determination, dedication and desire to run on any kind of surface. Add in obstacles such as tree roots, rocks, sand, hills, and more, and you’ll need an extra dose of those qualities on the days when running feels particularly hard. Friends who are already avid trail runners might tell you to go do and hour or two on a trail that you don’t know. If you are just beginning, that is probably not very good advice. The greatest risk that a new trail runner will face is to have a bad experience. Above all else, you have to enjoy yourself. Whether that means you enjoy the challenge of the terrain, beautiful scenery you wouldn’t find running on the streets of your neighborhood, the feeling of improving your fitness, or a combination, figure out a way to make trail running enjoyable.
It really does matter how you feel on the trail. Run when you can and don’t worry if you have to walk, some terrain is runnable and some just isn’t – knowing that really helps. It can take 45 minutes to do a mile if you are climbing uphill and only 5 minutes to come down, but it will all work out. Since all trails are different — some hilly, some flat, some rocky, some smooth — covering a certain distance on a trail will take varied amounts of time. Even the same trail can run faster or slower on any given day, dependent on trail conditions (rain + mud = slow).
A common mistake road runners make when switching to trails is comparing road running times (how long it takes to cover a mile) to trail running times and get discouraged. Running for a certain amount of time instead of a certain amount of miles can reap the same gains on the trail. Just know that unlike road running – where a consistent pace is ideal – the pace will fluctuate on trails.
Add appropriate accessories to your running routine. Although many trails provide shaded routes, it’s still wise to wear sunscreen. Sunglasses not only block harmful rays and glare, they also protect your eyes from tree branches and bushes. Wearing a hat and bug spray will help prevent insect bites and ticks. Grabbing some trail running gaiters will keep the dirt, gravel, and briars out of your shoes that can cause hot spots and abrasions. A neck gaiter gives you a little style on the trail, and is handy for keeping the sweat out of your eyes and preventing a sunburn on your neck. And it doubles as an instant face mask should you need one due to Covid-19 concerns. Most of all, extra hydration on a trail run is a must!
While you’re out there, listen, smell, and feel the ground under your feet. If you’ve gone to the trouble of running on a trail, and not on a treadmill or a track, don’t forget to reward yourself by taking in the beauty of your environment. It may seem a little “unprofessional” compared with focusing on your watch or your cadence or your position in the race. But a nice deep gulp of nature can make the whole thing seem worthwhile, and result in a boost to your morale.
• Be consistent, but don’t over-train
• Take it easy to begin with and give your body the chance to adapt and recover
• Don’t expect too much of yourself too soon
• Focus on the experience, not your speed
• Adjust downtime training to accommodate for different terrains and new challenges
• Build up your endurance over time
• Avoid injuries as best you can (even minor ones)
• Remember to take in your surroundings
It’s all worth it. Little by little trail runners get fitter, faster and stronger!