Trail running and, especially, trail races are extremely different from training for something like a road race. DON'T let that intimidate you, instead let this excite you for new PRs, beautiful scenery, and a love for nature!
How do I start trail running?
Once you are out in the beauty of nature you are going to be hooked. Trail running is going to be harder and requires different muscles, so instead of worrying about pace get focused on the new experience.
These beginner trail running tips will help you to explore an entirely new side of your running and see a whole new world of possibilities!
1. Choose the right trail shoes.
Depending on how technical the trail is that you’re running, trail shoes add a level of stability and comfort that make them worth the investment. Just like in road running, there are several different options available that have different features such as varying lug depth, rock plates, and different material rubber soles. Depending on how much road you run to get to the trail, you may want to consider different shoes. If it is a smooth, grassy trail, you may be able to get away with road shoes for a little bit; but, it is best to have shoes with more grip.
2 . Socks
Ever ask yourself why trail runners wear tall socks? Stopping to repeatedly pull a rock or dirt out of your shoe to prevent blisters is pretty annoying! Also, depending on the trail you might be running through grass and that prevent scrapes, ticks, and bug bites. Another addition to socks are gaiters. These can be attached to some shoes and help to prevent rocks, dirt, or sand from getting in your shoes...which will prevent a lot of issues the more miles you cover.
3. Train with a hydration pack and food for refueling.
Depending on the length of trail race you’ll be running aid stations are sometimes few and far between and of course if you head out solo on the trails, you just want to be prepared in case you go a bit long or take a little wrong turn. It is easiest to carry your own hydration and fueling supplies so that you don’t get stuck on the trail feeling like you might bonk.
More often than not, your can run hours on the road without needing fuel; however, on the trails you’re often moving a bit slower and using many different stabilizer muscles!
Depending on the distance and terrain of the trail, some races will require certain gear or packs. It is beneficial to include this as part of your training so that you become efficient carrying everything you will need on race day.
4. Leave no trace.
Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.
Be prepared to carry out what you carried in. Training with your hydration pack will come in handy. It is like wearing tights with pockets, but many more! Your handheld or vest can carry your energy gels or stuffing away those squares of paper after your first side trail pee.
5. Trail racing requires balance.
Trail racing you will encounter rocks, roots, branches, holes, and more.
This varying terrain will require that you include strengthening exercises in your training that will improve your overall balance and ankle stability (i.e. bosu ball balance workout, core strength, barefoot wall touches, step ups, and walking lunges)..
6. Throw your road racing pace out the window.
When you begin training for your first trail race do not be discouraged if your pace is slower than on the road. A slower pace is completely normal. Your times will be slower because you’re navigating more difficult terrain and softer terrain. You will spend time working your way around obstacles while trying not to lose your footing on slippery leaves, mud, grass, or rocks.
Also, take a look around you will notice a lot of smart runners actually power hike the steep up hills, so that they have enough energy for the full race that lies ahead of them.
*Remember it will make you stronger in the end!
7. Do speed workouts on the track or on the road.
To get faster on the trails, just like the road, continuing your normal speed workouts (tempos, progression, and intervals) will keep your overall speed up.
Combining longer slower trail runs and short speed sessions will make you a better runner overall.
8. Pick up your feet!
In distance running, we keep our feet lower to the ground as a means of conserving our energy. Doing this on the trails could lead to disaster. You need to step up and over all the little things on the trail.
As your body becomes fatigued it is harder to lift your legs and the likelihood of tripping and falling down on the trails because more likely. So pay attention to footing and practice paying attention by looking a few feet ahead to know what may need to be traversed.
9. Hills! Hills! Hills!
Just like in road racing, hill repeats will help you to build leg strength and improve your aerobic capacity.
This will also train the use of a strong arm swing to help propel you climb each hill will not just using the power of your legs but also your core and upper body too! Trails often have lots of hill, this will help you prepare.
10. Find a friend to train with.
If you’re nervous about running trails alone or getting lost, then it’s time to embrace the power of group running or a single friend to go with you!!
11. Vary the conditions in which you train.
Weather can have an impact on trail conditions making them muddy and slick so be sure to hit the trails during your training even if they are a total mud pit. Running poles can be your new best friend for slippery condition or steep ascents. The slight addition of stability allows you to continue moving quicker.
Also, check to see the trail coverage, are you in the shade, are you exposed, etc. This will help you decide many things - Clothes, coverage, sunglasses, hydration, nutrition, sunscreen, etc.
12. Relish the adventure.
One of the best parts of training for a trail race is the training because you will get to soak up the nature that surrounds you including unexpected vistas and hidden waterfalls. There’s nothing better than discovering a new trail with an incredible scenic overlook!