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The all-in-one, complete guide to trail running for beginners

Whether you’re new to running or a seasoned road runner, trails open new possibilities. Trail running is more than just putting one foot in front of the other on a dirt trail. This blog will help you get started with the journey.


This blog will cover:

  • Why you should try trail running
  • What gear you should use
  • Where to find running trails (and people to run them with)
  • How to overcome the fear of falling
  • Why you should take time to stretch before running
  • Why trail running is ideal for all experience levels


Why you should try trail running


Trail running is a fun escape from the monotony of daily routines. Trail running encompasses dirt, single-track trails, fire roads, and mountain trails. 


No two trails are the same. Even the same trail can look different depending on the season or the direction you run. The variety can help motivate you and make you a stronger runner, physically and mentally. 


Most runners will tell you that being in nature seems to improve their mental state and decreases their stress levels. And since trails can give you time to smell the fresh air, jump over rocks, and see the views, think of your next trail run as self-care.


What gear you should use 


Shoes are your most important gear. The terrain that you plan on covering should guide your shoe choices. If you’ll be running on gravel-based trails, lace up your road running shoes and head out.


But consider investing in a good pair of trail-running shoes if you’re planning on spending more time on trails with roots, rocks and mud. An athletic shoe store should stock the types to help keep you injury-free as you venture beyond the pavement. 


Where to find running trails (and people to run them with)


As you decide where to explore, it’s important to remember that rougher terrain and elevation will slow you down. It will probably take longer to cover the same distance on the trail. If your average pavement running pace is 6 miles per hour, don’t be ashamed if you run 4 miles per hour on a trail, especially if it’s rough or hilly.


A great introduction to trail running can be the gravel roads or former railroad tracks that many towns have converted into paths. These types of trails are a great way to discover different areas as well as try new gear. 


Discovering a new trail and its terrain is part of the excitement of trail running. But it can also make you uncomfortable. The good news is there are apps, like AllTrails and Strava, that can help you find trails near you and help you navigate. 


Groups of adults running outside


The best way to find trails is to find a local group of trail runners. You’ll quickly find out that trail running comes with its community. I met my group through our local road running club. The list of trail running clubs is always growing.  


How to overcome the fear of falling 


Every trail runner I know has fallen. So, it’s common to have some initial concerns about falling on the trail. Yet, there are things you can do to help reduce your falling risk while on uneven terrain. 


Try power hiking or walking. Walking a steep hill or a highly technical trail can keep your heart rate within aerobic zones and help you avoid falling. Instead of focusing on your per-mile pace, go on how you feel as you run. Slow down and pay attention to the trail. 


A common reason runners fall is because they aren’t paying attention. They lose concentration or aren’t picking up their feet because they were distracted. As you become more experienced, your body will adjust, and you won’t have to think as hard. 


Your running technique also makes a difference. Most runners shorten their stride when running over obstacles like rocks, logs and windy corners. This helps keep your feet underneath you to maintain your balance. 


Some beginner trail runners may find that the constant change of the horizon can feel a bit jarring, or even make them slightly dizzy. Keep your eyes down and look about 10 feet in front of you. When the trail is rough, slow down so your eyes can focus on your footing.


When you’re going downhill, try not to look at your feet. Instead, focus your eyes slightly in front of yourself and avoid leaning too far back. With your elbows bent, move them away from your torso and swing your arms. This can help with your balance as you navigate inconsistent trails. 


Why you should take time to stretch before running


This article is about trail running; not stretching. But since trail running challenges your muscles, you’ll likely notice muscle soreness in your calves and hips after your first few miles on a trail. 


Stretching after your run can help restore and improve flexibility for your next run. When you want muscles to fire with power, like running up a steep hill, the right amount of muscle tension can help you get to the top. Incorporate single leg standing stretches and exercises into your post-run routine, which can be highly beneficial for any runner. 


Man running on outdoor terrain in woods


Why trail running is ideal for all experience levels


When I first joined a trail running group, many of the runners were excited about their upcoming 30-mile races. I was nowhere near ready for that. But I quickly learned that you could make trail running as much of a challenge as you want. Trail running is not about the speed or pace. It’s about being outdoors. 


Runners choose trails for many reasons. And you can choose to challenge yourself with long distances, or you can enjoy just running on dirt away from traffic.  


Remember to enjoy the journey. Congratulate yourself for trying something new and moving your body in nature. 

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