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James Waldie  •  Running Training •  21.03.2019 •  4 min read

A beginner’s guide to trail running

Ready to switch up your running routine and start trail running? It’s never too late. You’re never too old. There’s no such thing as too slow! So here are some top tips to get started in trail running with confidence.

There are so many reasons to get excited about trail running. It offers spectacular scenery and surprises at every turn and has plenty proven health benefits…

Good for your mind

There’s no better way of escaping work stress and the bustle of city life than blazing along a trail, mindful of only the surface under your feet and the wild surroundings. Every trail is different. You can find yourself tracking a river through a beautiful glen, scaling the edge of a gnarly hill or losing yourself in an overgrown forest.

It’s exciting and full of surprises. An antidote to the monotony of road running and a great way to freshen up your routine or find new motivation!

Good for your body

With this unique and demanding terrain comes new physical demands. Uneven paths and tree roots force the tendons and ligaments around your ankle to work differently with every step.

Frequent changes of gradient test all your leg muscles, including your cardio fitness, while softer surfaces actually reduce the impact on your joints. Step onto the trails and you’ll become a much stronger, more agile and less injury prone runner!

1. Start steady, finish strong

Trail running is hard work and puts more muscular stress on the body than road running. Ease yourself into the trails gradually, rather than all at once, so that your body has time to adapt.

Start on flatter, well-trodden trails and work your way up to narrow single tracks. It’s brilliant fun exploring tiny paths on a map, but can be challenging. Make sure you can go the distance before you try something new!

2. Forget about pace and distance. Go by effort and feel

Forget about the distance covered and your average pace, as running on trails can take twice as long (and be twice as demanding) as running on the roads.

Trail running gives you the chance to focus on your internal effort and not on your GPS watch. You’re not going to be running a 7 minute mile pace up Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat now, are you?!

3. Keep your eyes on the trail

The trails can be tricky so it’s best to keep both eyes on them. You need to scan and respond to the terrain and continuously make decisions about foot placement.

The weather conditions will also have a big impact on your run. Heavy rain can turn a path into a quagmire, snow can hide tree roots and gusts of wind can make even the smallest hill seem daunting. So be prepared!

4. Change gears

Adjust your pace according to the terrain. When in doubt, take the strain off the calves and walk.

For uphills try and relax as much as possible, shorten your stride and focus on one step at a time. If it’s steep, hunch over, put your hands on your knees and power walk.

For gradual downhills on groomed trails, lean into the downhill, open your stride, and let the hill pull you down.

For technical downhills or steep hills, it’s better to use a stair-stepping motion, keeping your torso tall and letting your legs do all the work. Be confident and allow your legs to relax as much as possible so that they don’t act like a brake.

5. Invest in trail running shoes

Trail shoes differ from road shoes in that they’re lower profile (lower to the ground) which reduces the chance of ankle rolls. They also have more aggressive tread, which offers better grip on muddy, wet trails. It’s worth investing in a pair of trail-specific shoes for maximum comfort and protection!

6. Pack food and fluid

You burn more calories trail running than regular running. If you’re going for a long run, make sure you pack food and fluid to stay well-nourished and hydrated throughout. A running backpack with an in-built water supply and pockets for stashing gels and snacks is invaluable.

Shop Running Nutrition.

The Salomon Active Skin 8 Set is perfect for this. It sits well on the body and doesn’t move when you’re twisting round those sharp corners. Pockets are also easily accessible and have enough room for all your essential kit.

7. Rest & recover

Trail running is taxing on the body and will take its toll. Allow time for adequate recovery and remember to stretch after every run.

Added climbs and descents are going to put additional stress on your muscles, particularly your calves, quads and glutes.

8. Stay safe

If you’re running solo, always carry your phone and let someone know where you are going/when you expect to be back.

If you’re heading well off the beaten track for some distance, run with a buddy and take a GPS system and map and compass.

Now go, get out there and enjoy the trails! If you're interested in knowing more about trail running, check out Trail Running Mag, a great resource for trail running news, tips, training advice, running shoe reviews and more.

An antidote to the monotony of road running and a great way to freshen up your routine or find new motivation!

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