Getting Ready for Trail Running

If you have always wanted to get into running, but do not feel like your local track, neighborhood or treadmill is right for you, consider trail running, a sport where you trek your way through natural settings. Most trail runners practice this sport because of the isolated settings and the ability to exercise several muscles in the body at once on more challenging trails. Before you run out the door and into the woods, learn how to properly prepare for a trail run and stay safe.

Types of Trails

They great thing about trail running is that it is hard to get bored with the view, unlike running on a track or on the streets. Trails can range from flat, dirt paths to those strewn with steep inclines and large rocks. Start with flat or gently undulating trails made of asphalt, dirt or stone as a beginner. Additional good beginner trails include fitness trails and bridle paths, which are flat or have gently rolling hills lined with wood chips, gravel or dirt. A more advanced trail is the “double-track” trail in a forest, which is made of gravel for vehicle use and can sometimes be steep. A “single-track” trail is like an obstacle course of varying levels, which consists of narrow paths of dirt, protruding tree roots, rocks to hurdle, steep pitches and streams to cross.

Trail Gear

Trail running gear is all about layering-up, portability, and being hands-free.

  • Clothes: Wear bright lightweight athletic clothes that wick sweat and keep you warm. Additionally, wear an athletic jacket with reflective features that you can tie around your waist once you start feeling warm.
  • Shoes: There are trail shoes and running shoes, and the best one to choose depends on your activity level and the trails you choose to run. If you plan to run on mostly flat trails made of asphalt or dirt, consider a running shoe. If you want to tackle single-track trails, consider using a shoe more suitable for that terrain.
  • Water: Hydration is one of the most important things to remember when you run. Consider using a hydration backpack or water bottles that you can clip onto a belt around your waist.
  • Snacks: They give you energy and are perfect if you stay out longer than intended.
  • Headlamp: No matter what time of day you run, take a headlamp with you in the event you end up outside in the dark. A headlamp can keep your hands free in case you fall, signal for help and can make you more visible if you share the trail with bicycles or cars.
  • LED flashlight: It is always good to have a backup light source. Because LED lights have a long battery life, they are perfect to use if you are injured and need to signal for help. Strap a small LED flashlight to your hydration pack, or slip one inside a pocket.
  • Whistle: A whistle is another great tool to have if you are hurt, need help and your cell phone does not work. People can hear a whistle much better than your voice, which may tire quickly.
  • Cell phone: Use it to listen to music on the trail as well as to make a call if there is a problem.
  • Identification: Keep a card on you with your name, known medical conditions, list of the medications you take and the name and phone number of an emergency contact.
  • Map and compass: Take these when running on new trails. Always give someone a copy of the route you intend to run.

Trail Running Tip

When you start trail running, focus on time instead of distance. It will always take longer to run a mile over rough terrain than on a smooth track. Instead of focusing on the distance of a trail run, concern yourself with the amount of time you spend exercising. A 15-minute mile on a trail run is perfectly acceptable for beginners.

Start easy when you first begin to run. It may be tempting to want to hurdle logs, run through streams and wrestle a bear on your first trail run, but start out slow. Become familiar with how your body reacts to this new exercise and advance as appropriate (while avoiding bears). Trail running is about endurance, not just speed.

[Photo by: Eustaquio Santimano]

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