Running is one of the oldest sports, activities, or hobbies around; it has literally existed as long as humans have. Running -- or jogging -- has had its fair share of popularity booms over the years, and it seems that the running world has been on fire for the past decade, thanks in large part to social media.
That said, there still exists a whole separate world of running that’s different from road races, color runs, and obstacle course racing, a type of running that challenges every part of you, both physically and mentally, and rewards you with breathtaking views and opportunities to experience the very best of nature in ways that are otherwise inaccessible.
What am I talking about? Trail running.
Whether you run through the woods near your home, a hillside, through a mountain pass, or through a community park, trail running -- while similar in nature to road running -- presents many opportunities and challenges that differ from more “traditional’ types of running. You’ll be pleased to know that while trail running is really hard work, you may very well find that spending significant amounts of time training on trails results in speed and strength that you can easily transfer over to the roads, making you feel like you can work harder, longer, and go further, without as much effort.
If you’re interested in taking your running to the next level, I can’t encourage you to check out trail running enough. Below, I’ll describe some tips that will help you get started with trail running.
My tips to help you get started with trail running include the following:
Find some trails near you to run.
This is obvious, but if you want to run trails, you’ve got to find them first! Check out a map of your hometown, and see where you can find the big patches of green; that’s usually a safe place to assume is a trail or park system. Similarly, there are often trails that run parallel to rivers or big bodies of water. It’s ok if you don’t run trails every single day; in fact, even if you just run them on the weekends, when your schedule isn’t as crunched for time between work and family obligations, you can still reap the physical and mental challenges and benefits that this sport confers.
Don’t buy new stuff right away; first, experiment.
It can be tempting to go to your nearest running store and buy all new trail stuff right away. However, you may first find that what you have will already work quite well for your needs. Experiment for a while on your trail runs to see what you need to change. You may learn, for example, that your usual trainers work just as well on roads as they do on trails, but you may instead find that you should buy taller socks that would help keep out “nature” from your shoes and ankles.
Similarly, you may have to buy a hydration vest for the first time in your life, particularly if you plan to be spending large amounts of time out in the trails. And hey, as a bonus, whatever money you don’t spend on gear you’ll have to use on future racing and trail running endeavors!
Chat with knowledgeable locals.
When you’re doing something for the first time, it’s highly likely that you don’t know what you don’t know. That said, with trail running, it’ll behoove you to connect with a local trail running group, folks who have been doing this stuff for a long time and who can help show you the ropes.
Ask them all the questions you have, follow them on training runs so you don’t get lost, let yourself be the new runner who doesn’t know anything, and in time, once you’ve become more experienced and knowledgeable, you’ll be able to pass on all your newly-acquired wisdom and knowledge to the next newbie.
Expect to be sore in different places.
If you’re used to running roads, you may be surprised that your body is sore in different ways, in different places, when you begin running trails. This is normal! When you run roads, more often than not, you’re moving just in one plane of motion (forward, sagittally).
When you run trails, though, you constantly move back and forth between different planes of motion to account for all the varying terrain, ascents, and descents you encounter. With that in mind, your body -- which is unaccustomed to such a variety of motion patterns -- will take a little bit of time to get used to this new way of running. You may find that areas like your hip flexors, ankles, and small stabilizing muscles are incredibly sore after your first few trail runs. That’s ok -- and they’ll get stronger in time.
You’ll be slower on trails than on roads. That’s normal.
Finally, when you begin running on trails, expect that your pace may be significantly slower on trails than what you post on roads. This is normal and to be expected because think about it: how fast can you really run if you’re running straight up a mountain, or over rocky and rooty terrain, or on a downhill that’s peppered with rocks the size of your head? The terrain you encounter will dictate your speed, and that’s part of the joy and challenge of trail running.
Similarly, don’t be surprised if you find that walking, or power hiking, some parts of your run to be more efficient than running. Even the professionals’ power hike when it makes sense to! Rely more on your perceived rate of exertion than your GPS or splits when you’re running trails, and I bet you’ll find it more enjoyable and the experience much richer.
Trail running is like recess for adults. It’s one of the few times we have to simply go out and be with nature, in all her unadulterated bliss, and unsurprisingly, it can do a huge number for our mood and our mental health. Enjoy the amazing opportunities and views of beautiful landscapes that trail running affords you, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride and the challenge! Both your body and your mind will thank you for giving it this awesome new experience.
AUTHOR’S BIO: JANE GRATES
A hiking addict, fitness enthusiast and a full time writer. Performing at the crossroads of reality and purpose to craft delightful experiences.