12 trail running tips for beginners

12 trail running tips for beginners

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Trail running has gained a lot of traction in the running community over the last 10 years. Although there are a lot of similarities between trail running and road running, there are also a lot of differences. In this post, I’d like to share my top 12 trail running tips for beginners. 

There is something so freeing about trail running. Running and the outdoors come together in a unique way to create an unforgettable experience.

And if you’re lucky to live near some amazing trails, then the experience is all the more noteworthy. 

If you’re used to road running and want to get into trail running, then you may be wondering where to begin. 

Many trail runners start their running journey on roads then progress to trails once they feel comfortable enough. I’m sure many will tell you that they find it hard to run on roads once they have the trail running bug. 

Before you head off on the beaten path, here is a list of 12 trail running tips for beginners. These will provide you with the basics when it comes to trail running.

trail running tips for beginners

12 trail running tips for beginners

Plan a route

As you would do with a normal run, it’s good to plan out your route ahead of time. With trail running this is especially important as every trail has its own unique set of conditions, terrain and challenges. 

If you’re new to trail running, it would be wise to stick to an easy route whilst you find your bearings. You can then progress to harder trails once you find your feet. 

Each trail presents its own set of challenges such as hills, uneven terrain and steep climbs. Don’t let these put you off though! This is what’s so great about trail running. Each aspect will challenge you and help you improve every time you run through it. 

Make sure you are aware of your route and have a physical map that you can take with you. Don’t rely solely on the GPS signal on your phone as this will more than likely stop working if you’re in a remote area.

Stay safe

As with road running, it’s important to stay safe out there on the trails. Trail running can take you to new and exciting places, but more often than not these are in remote areas. 

Run with a friend or in a group and always tell someone where you are going and on which route. It’s also wise to take a phone with you in case of an emergency. 

If you intend on going on a long trail run, take a small backpack and hydration pack with you. You’re unlikely to see any shops or pubs on your route!

Dehydration and fatigue are very real when you’re out on a trail in the middle of nowhere, so make sure you are prepared.

trail running tips for beginners

Be considerate of other trail users

While trail running you’ll probably come across hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders and dog walkers. Share the trail as much as possible and give way to other users when needed.

Say hello and be friendly and stay on marked trails. In large national parks, you’ll find that most major trails are marked and well signposted, but if you find yourself on a trail without any signs, stick to the marked path as much as possible. 

You probably won’t find litter bins on the trails either, so make sure you take any litter with you.

Keep your eyes on the trail

Trail running is very technical and involves a lot of traversing up steep climbs and down winding paths. 

Keep your eyes on the trail and make a habit of looking four to five steps in front of you. This way you will be able to spot any terrain that may present a challenge. 

Many trail running injuries are caused by loss of attention. The trail can change quickly so it’s wise to keep your eyes on it at all times. For this reason you may find you want to stop more to take in the gorgeous views around you. 

At first you will probably find trail running physically and mentally exhausting. After all, road running does not require this much concentration! In time though you will build your confidence and your ability to traverse technical trails. 

Slow down

Trail running is much more demanding than road running. If you’re used to running at a certain pace on the road, it’s unlikely you will be able to sustain this on a trail run. 

Highly technical trails that require you to run up hills, over rocks and other obstacles. This will mean you will have to run at a slower pace. A 10k run on the trails, for example, can be significantly longer to cover than a 10k run on the roads. 

Many seasoned trail runners learn to run by their perceived effort level instead of their pace and by time instead of distance. 

Listen to your body to determine how fast you’re going. If you’re running at a challenging pace, your breathing will feel laboured and you will find it difficult to hold a conversation while running. 

While out on the trails, most of your runs should feel comfortable. You should be able to hold a clear conversation with your friends. The key is to not put too much pressure on yourself to go fast. Trail running can be pretty unforgiving if you hit the trails too hard.

Adjust your pace according to the terrain, and maintain a consistent level as you traverse steep climbs. If you need to stop and walk to get your breath back, this is completely fine. 

As your body gets more conditioned to trail running, you will find it much easier. 

trail running tips for beginners

Wear trail running shoes

Consider investing in a pair of decent trail running shoes if you feel you will be trail running regularly. 

Trail running shoes differ from normal road running shoes in that they offer better traction and more protection from the elements and things like rocks and roots. They are also normally made from more robust materials. 

Most major running shoe shops will have a selection of trail running shoes for you to choose from. As with road running shoes, make sure you go with comfort over style and ask for a gait analysis to ensure you are getting the right shoe.

A decent pair will set you back over £80 so it’s worth checking that you are buying the right pair for your feet. 

Wear sunscreen

You are exposed to everything that the great outdoors has to throw at you when trail running. Heat, humidity, rain, snow are all part of the package!

Make sure you wear sunscreen (even during the winter months) and invest in a solid pair of sunglasses. They will not only protect your eyes from the sun, but also tree branches, bushes and sideways rain!

If you’re trail running during the summer months, it’s especially important to keep your body protected. Follow my tips on running in the heat and humidity for more information.

Winter trail running can be brutal if you don’t wear the right gear. Follow my tips on how to dress for winter running for more tips and advice.

Embrace the hills

Many people love trail running because of the beautiful and varied landscapes that you get to traverse. If you’re not used to hill running, then you will need to learn a few tips to help you adjust your form and movement while running.

Adopt short, quick steps and keep a consistent stride and cadence. Your arms will help you counter-balance your legs. Try and keep them relaxed and free, especially when jumping over obstacles. 

You’ll find that gravity has a larger part to play during hill running so don’t fight it. Let the gravity pull you down. 

There will be times when you simply cannot run up a hill because it’s either too steep or you’re too exhausted. Walking up a hill is totally acceptable in trail running. You will not be deemed a failure for doing so!

Work on your strength

Trail running calls upon strength, stability and balance in many more ways than road running. You’ll benefit by including a simple strength training session in your training plan each week.

You will be targeting different muscles and movements in trail running, so it’s important you stay strong and prioritise ancillary work like strength training. 

Any exercises that improve your stability and balance, such as single-leg glute bridge, squats, planks, push-ups and lunges, are great to do either in the gym or at home. 

trail running tips for beginners

Make time for recovery

As with road running, it’s important you train smart and make time for recovery. 

You’ll probably feel exhausted after each trail run when you first start out, so you’ll want to allow adequate time for recovery before hitting the trails again.

A proper rest and recovery strategy includes everything from sleep and nutrition to stretching and foam rolling. 

Join a trail running club

If you’re new to trail running then one of the best ways to embrace it is to join a trail running club. Many running clubs organise group trail runs in the evenings and weekends, so there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved.

Speak with members of your local running store to see what clubs do trail runs. Websites like the Trail Running Association, Wild Running and Love Trail Running advertise groups and events.

Websites like RunTogether, Facebook and MeetUp also advertise services of local clubs. 

Joining a club is also a great way to learn more about the art of trail running. You’ll meet fellow beginner trail runners and more seasoned trail runners alike, making it a great way to connect with fellow trail runners and get the lowdown on this ever-growing sport.  

Have fun!

Trail running is one of the most freeing forms of running. The opportunity to be outdoors for hours at a time, exploring and navigating your way through landscapes truly is wonderful. 

If you’re looking for a new way to embrace what the great outdoors has to offer, whilst working on your technical running skills, then trail running may just be for you.

Throughout it all though it’s important to enjoy it and have fun. Trail running offers its own set of unique challenges, but it’s certainly worth the blood, sweat and tears to overcome them. 

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Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Madolyn

    Trail running and the desire to move fast in the mountains is what got me into running! September of 2019 I couldn’t even run five minutes without stopping but I kept at it, and this summer it culminated in my first half marathon (ran the whole thing) and then my first ultra (unsupported 54km with over 1800m of vertical gain/loss with some solid power hiking and stops to filter water). Now I’m hoping to train for my first 80km race in 2021! Your blog has been so helpful in my training – running is such a joyful celebration of what our bodies can do!

    1. Wow! You have been doing lots Madolyn! Well done for getting out there! I’m glad my blog has helped you on your journey. The 80km race sounds epic! I wish you all the best with your training. I’m sure you will smash it!

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