The Beginners Guide To Trail Running

Picture this, you’re out walking through the woods or across a rocky outcrop and you suddenly see a small group of runners come by, traversing logs, rocks and anything the landscape throws at them. Surely they’re too far out to be doing a ‘standard’ run you might be thinking? Well chances are, unless they’re running from a rather angry bear or cow, they’re enjoying the wonders of trail running.

Perhaps you’re already investigating getting started with trail running, or perhaps you’ve never even heard of the sport before. Either way, today we wanted to offer a fun, beginner friendly insight into what trail running is all about and how you can get started!

We’ll be sharing a little on the history of the sport, what makes it unique and some of the need to knows before you head out on your first trail run!

What Is Trail Running?

In its simplest form, trail running can essentially be boiled down into a form of running that includes steep gradients and is run “on any unpaved surface”. It does share similarity to cross country running, however generally takes place over even longer distances and more wild environments.

Trail running is certainly a growing sport within the running community, with the number of organised trail races growing by 1,000% from 2008 to 2018, and even during the pandemic, more and more people turned to trail running as a means to explore their local surroundings and get out of their homes.

As with other outdoor ventures such as hiking though, one core message rings through the trail running community. To respect the trail and to comply with common leave no trace practices and other trail etiquette (read our guide to the etiquette of hiking for more on this). The common purpose of trail etiquette is to preserve the wilderness environment while ensuring the safety and enjoyment of all trail users including those around you and not to disturb wildlife.

There are a million different health benefits of trail running, not only is it a fantastic source of exercise, but thanks to the ever changing nature of the trails you will be running, many runners often cite less impact stress in their feet and legs compared to road running. Many also have fallen in love with trail running as a completely unique way to explore the landscape in a non-urban, non-busy environment…As any runner will tell you, there’s a big difference between running in a town or city vs running in the mountains!

What Makes Trail Running Unique? 

As trail runners encounter almost any landscape and environment, you need to be prepared for it. One minute you could be running on mud, the next a rocky outcrop, the next a steep grassy hill. As such, trail running shoes are particularly unique.

Many trail runners use specially designed shoes that have aggressively knobby soles that are generally more rigid than road running shoes.

They often contain, more robust soles, better heel support and a lightweight, flexible nylon plastic layer to protect the feet from puncture wounds from sharp rocks or other objects, but because they are generally running on softer surfaces such as dirt or grass, cushioning is not as important so often the shoes are less ‘cushioned’ than traditional running shoes.

On particularly difficult or long trails, it’s also not uncommon to see trail runners use walking (or running) poles in order to help on the steep ascents.

Where Can I Trail Run?

Realistically, you can trail run almost anywhere! There’s a bit of a misconception that you have to go into the wildest of wildernesses to trail run, you really don’t, especially if you’re just starting out! A relatively straightforward countryside path is a good place to start, especially if you want to head into the mountains, or more remote areas, as building up your strength and technique on easier terrain will help you stay injury free for longer.

Ultimately trail running is all about building up your confidence and tackling more challenging routes. One big (and perhaps often overlooked) part of trail running is that…you likely will fall at some point. As you’re busy dodging loose or slippery ground, jumping tree roots and steep up and downs, tumbles and slips will happen at some point. So start off easy, don’t push too hard too soon or you could end up hurting yourself.

Unlike traditional running that is all about times, it’s a far more sustainable approach to trail run knowing that the trail will dictate the pace. Don’t try to rush a particularly tricky patch or choose the most difficult paths you spot, on rainy or colder days, it’s not uncommon for areas of trails to be completely un-runnable, so set your objectives based on what you see ahead of you and leave your stopwatch at home!

Tips and Tricks

Some of our team are big into trail running and almost unanimously, they agreed that if you are unfamiliar with the area you’re running in, it’s worth investing in a map and a compass (and learning how to use them!) or a GPS watch. Sometimes phones just don’t cut it, and the last thing you’d want to do is end up getting lost on a trail in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where you are!

Likewise, always carry a head torch, particularly if you are an evening runner, street lights are a luxury for a trail runner, so it’s always good practice to be able to see what you’re running at.

Finally, packing a lightweight waterproof jacket, gloves and a hat into a nice comfy running backpack is always a good idea and will ensure you’re prepared for whatever the weather throws at you.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this quick and simple guide to getting started with the wonders of trail running! To learn more about getting started with trail running, or to book a fitting for your first set of trail running shoes, contact our expert team today! 

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