One of the best things about running is we always have the opportunity for a new challenge. Beginner trail running is often a place where long time road runners find themselves when they’re in need of a new feeling, scenery or challenge.
Trail running and especially trail races are entirely different than training for something like a 10 mile road race, but don’t let that intimidate you. Let it excite you for new automatic PRs.
How do I start trail running?
Once you head out into the beauty of nature you’ll be hooked. It’s going to be harder and different and require different muscles, so instead of worrying about pace get focused on the new experience.
- Find the right shoes
- Learn how to find running trails for all abilities
- Get in the mindset of exploring and trying something new, not comparing to your road running
Use these beginner trail running tips to help you explore an entirely new side of your running and see a whole new world of possibilities! It will make you a better road runner and bring a lot of joy back to your workouts.
How To Prepare For Your First Trail Run?
Many days we simply grab our watch and head out the door to run, but with trail running we want to be a little more prepared. On the off chance that you should get lost or trip, we need some extra preparation.
- Wear a hydration pack – makes it easy to take things you need
- Absolutely carry snacks – that back up energy bar may surprise you as trail running makes us hungrier
- Water – there are no water stops! You must carry water
- Safety alarm and or gel pepper spray
- Tissues and bandaids – listen sometimes ya gotta go and sometimes ya trip
- Extra lube on your toes and feet, they will move around different in your shoes
12 Beginner Trail Running Tips
In order to get ready for your first trail race or for a longer distance on the trails you may need to make some adjustments to how you train, which is what we’re going to dive in to day!
When I’m training for a trail race I train by preparing my body and my mind and also by making sure that I have the proper gear to make my trail race an experience to be remember.
1. Choose trail shoes.
Depending on how technical the trail is that you’re running, you can get away with road running shoes for awhile…but as I quickly learned those trail shoes add a level of stability and comfort that make them worth the investment.
I mean, did you really need an excuse to buy more shoes?? These shoes will help give you more traction around the downhills and have rock plates which will help protect your toes.
✅ Here’s a list of the best trail running shoes (based on my testing and yours!).
And since we’re on foot wear, why do 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 extra layer can prevent scrapes or bug bites.
2. 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.
Oddly, I can run for hours on the road without needing fuel. However, on the trails you’re often moving a bit slower and the body can indeed get hungry!! Pack snacks!!
I find that 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.
(checkout my running hydration pack options)
3. Leave no trace.
Be prepared to carry out what you bring in.
This is another reason training with your hydration pack on will come in handy or be sure to wear clothes with pockets for carrying your energy gels or stuffing away those squares of paper after you tackle your first squat and pee.
4. Trail racing requires balance.
During a trail race you’ll encounter rocks, roots, sticks, tree branches, holes and more.
Improving your core strength will also help you to nimbly navigate over challenging trail terrain without missing a beat.
5. 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. This is normal!
Your times will be slower because you’re navigating more difficult terrain. You will often need to spend time working your way around obstacles or trying not to lose your footing on slippery leaves or rocks.
AND you may just notice that in trail races, smart runners actually power hike the steep uphills, so that they have enough energy for the full race.
What is the average pace for trail running?
There is no average!! But many road runners will tell you they can be a couple minutes per mile slower on the trails, especially when running at altitude, up steep hills or on a technical trail.
Ultrarunners have taught us all that walking the uphills is a better way to conserve energy and thus allow you to keep running farther! Power walking those hills might slow your pace technically, but it helps you keep going.
6. Do speed workouts on the track or on the road.
In order be fast on the trails continuing your normal speed workouts (fartleks and intervals) will keep your overall speed up when you head out on the trail.
Depending on whether you’re running uphill, on a technical trail with rocks or uneven terrain, you can’t use running pace effectively for speed workouts.
It’s definitely okay to do these workouts where you feel comfortable and not feel like you must spend every single run on the trails. The combination of longer runs on the trails and short speed sessions will make you a better overall runner.
*That being said, you can 100% do speed work on the trails. They key is to remember that you’re doing these by effort level and not by pace.
7. Pick up your feet!
In distance running, we often keep our feet low to the ground as a means of conserving energy. But on the trails this could lead to disaster as you need to truly step up and over all the little things in your path.
As your body becomes fatigued it’s easy to think less about this, which can cause unexpected tripping and falling down on the trails. I’m guilty of this on sidewalks, ha!
So I have practiced paying more attention on the trails and looking a few feet ahead to know what may need to be traversed.Trail running vs road running, what you need to know for your first race! from @organicrunnermom Click To Tweet
A few skip drills that can help you with this as well.
8. Hills! Hills! Hills!
Just like in road racing, running uphill repeats will help you to build leg strength and will be necessary to help improve your aerobic capacity.
This is also a good opportunity to practice using strong arm swing to help you climb each hill using not only the power of your legs but also your core and upper body too! Many trail races venture into mountainous territory so you will be glad you tackled those hills during training.
When someone asks if trail running is easier than road running, I think of hills….NO.
- Trail running can allow you to let go of thinking about pace, which might make it feel easier
- Trail running can be more enjoyable with the views and that could make it feel easier
- Effort wise it is indeed harder
9. Find a friend to train with.
I admit that my general preference is to go solo so that I can enjoy the surroundings and not feel any pressure on my pace. But the truth is that any training with friends is going to make you stronger and can help the time fly.
If you’re nervous about trails or getting lost, then it’s time to embrace the power of group running or just find a single friend to go with you!!
10. Bring a map.
If you are unfamiliar with a trail system bring along a map so that you are able to navigate your way back to the end of the trail. Luckily there are now some amazing running apps like Trail Runner Project which work based solely on GPS, so no worries about not having a cell signal.
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.
During my Costa Rica running retreat, I realized how little time I’d spent on trails that were slick due to wet leaves and it was a game changer.
First I realized, that running poles were my new best friend. The slight addition of stability allowed me to continue moving quicker.
Second, this road runner finally embraced the mud and dirt of trail running. Have fun getting dirty and be a kid! Might as well enjoy the conditions whatever they may be, as you’re in some pretty cool places.
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!
Bonus tip: Many times you’ll be sharing the trail with mountain bikers. While they often will stop and let you pass, it’s incumbent upon you to not have music so loud in your headphones you don’t hear them coming.
They’re obviously much faster and I generally prefer to step to the side so they can move on by.
All the new runner tips I’ve shared before really apply here too. Be patient. Have fun. Embrace the journey!
Good luck training for your trail race and enjoy everything that comes along with venturing off the roads. You may discover that you are truly a trail runner at heart.
Have you ever done a trail race?
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