Trail Running For Fitness : Beginners Guide

Are you looking for a way to get fit in a simple yet exciting way? Then try Trail Running. The word Trail can be intimidating since you might immediately think about thousands of feet of elevation, dangerous cliffs or technical route with a lot of rocks and hard to run muds.  Definitely wrong! Trail running can be as simple as running on any surface as long as it’s not concrete. Running is a proven activity or sport that could make you fit, but at some point it becomes a usual boring routine making commitment hard to achieve. But, when you do it on a trail, things are different and more exciting.

What is Trail Running

As mentioned earlier, trail running refers to any run done off the concrete road. Some common areas for trail running are lush forests, mountain areas, coastal areas and national parks.

It is suitable for anyone even for those who haven’t started running yet. The difficulty of a trail run experience depends on the route. There are areas where running could be very easy, but there are also places where you have to deal with a certain level of difficulty because of technical terrains, high elevation plus rocks, and heavy mud. In the long run, the difficulty would not matter that much anymore, it’s the experience and fun that counts.

Since trail running allows you to run on different surfaces, it has been said to offer a lot of benefits and lesser injury compared to road running.

Preparing Your Trail Running Accessories and Gears

Unlike road running where you only need any kind of running shoes then you can immediately hit the road and run, running on the trail requires preparation. There are required gears that must be worn for safety purposes and for better trail experience.  Below are the things you have to prepare first.

List of Must-Have Gears

Shoes

In trail running, your shoes play a very important part since it will define your running experience especially when you decide to run in forests near you or on national parks.  Road shoes are made to ensure best running experience on concrete so when you go on the trail with this type of shoes, expect some inconvenience. Its easier to run on the trail with the proper trail shoes.

Types of Shoes

Stability shoes is best if you want more stability in your running. There are runners whose foot lands in an awkward position on every stride and this usually leads to discomfort and pain as you add up more miles in running. A stability shoe can provide the right amount of support to keep your foot in place on every stride and keep it from rolling inward. Aside from support, you’ll also enjoy a nice cushioning which softens the impact when your foot lands the grounds. It reduces pressure on the leg and foot joints so reducing the chances of injury.

Though stability shoes is really a tempting option, one should not disregard the Minimalist option. This type of shoe has been proven to enhance your sense of balance and coordination which is very important when running on the trail. This happens because the runner has a better feel of the ground. These shoes are also lighter which means a longer time before you experience fatigue.

Shirt

The right running shirt would make your running experience more comfortable. However, you do not need to buy those with a lot of features or technology, the most important thing to consider is its made of a fabric designed to sweat in. It should be light to wear and feel breezy.

Short

It is necessary to wear a short that is really designed for the trail. It must be of good quality in order not to be easily torn when touched on branches or rocks. There should be at least one zip up pocket ideally found on the back of the short. And since you are on the trail chances are you’ll get yet, you would want a short that dries quickly.

Socks

The same with your shirt, the sock has to have this feature of effectively dealing with sweat especially for people who sweat a lot on their feet. This helps avoid having blisters which makes running very uncomfortable and painful.

Hydration Vest or Water Bottle

When running on the trail, one must not forget about hydration. You have the option to go for a hydration vest or a water bottle. If the trail route is not that long around 1-2 hours run, a water bottle is a good option. But for long hours of running, a hydration vest is best.

Watch (with GPS feature)

Some might consider a watch as a less important accessory. But, it has proven to be an important gear to have for trail runners. One of the main reasons is for you to know the time. You definitely would not want to be out on the trail when it gets dark especially when it is not planned.  Another known reason to have a watch with you is for you not to get lost. GPs watches have this feature to help you retrace your steps.  And for you to fully experience the advantages of having a watch, it has to have a long battery life.

List of Trail Running Accessories (Optional)

Cap and Glasses

You would want to have these accessories when you think you’ll be spending some time under the heat of the sun. These will not only protect your eyes from sunlight but from debris as well.

Gloves

Gloves are pretty useful when trail running on places where there are steeps sections where you have to use your hands to hold rocks or tree roots in order to reach the top. It keeps your hands from easily getting wounded.

Headlamp

A headlamp is required when you run early in the morning before sunlight or when you run in the evening.  So bring one depending on your running plan.

Running Jacket

This is optional because its only required for places where it often rains. The right running jacket would keep you warm and dry when there is slight rain. It is also a good investment for places which are windy.

Leggings

This running gear is also optional since wearing it would most likely depend on the runner. Many prefer to wear short during their trail run, but some also go with leggings especially in cold weathers.

Gaiters

Prevent muds and small stones from entering your shoes with using gaiters. This accessory is pretty handy when running on a muddy trail. Though it’s not a must-have, if you have the budget, we highly suggest you get a pair of gaiters.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles will be useful when you run at high altitude. It helps lessen the pressure on your legs and make use of your upper body to help you reach the top.

How to Prepare Yourself?

Before you run a long distance trail or join a trail running race, it is best that you prepare yourself first. However, if you are already running on the road, running on the trail would not be that hard. It just gets a little tougher but more fun.

To prepare yourself, you need to do some running drills, jogging and strength exercises. These are all important to prepare your body for the challenges when you get on the trail. It is not enough that you run or jog, you also have to prepare your upper body.

Create your Own Training Plan

Since we run for fun or for other reasons aside from being a competitive athlete in trail running, there is no need to get a couch to help you create your training plan. But, of course, you are free to do so if you want.

A Simple Personalized Training Plan

A simple training plan would be to run as often as possible whenever you have the chance. For example, tomorrow is a holiday, see to it that you could run in the morning. An hour of running would be a good start.

For starters, running 5k distance on regular days is a good start. Then once every two weeks, decide a time or day for a 10k distance run.

If you can do this regularly, you can participate in any trail running events from 5k, 10k to 15k.  As you feel comfortable with doing this routine, you can slowly increase your running distance and aim for longer races up to 21k.

Tips in Sticking to Training Plan

  1. Put your Training Plan into writing. It is a different experience when you wake up in the morning and immediately see your training plan in your room or on your desk. It will constantly remind you of what you want to achieve and your roadmap to getting there. The more often you see your plan, the more motivated you become.
  2. Find a partner.  This is a good strategy as running could become boring especially when you are just starting. There will come a time that you would feel that everything is repetitive. This won’t bother you that much if you have a partner whom you can enjoy the trail while training. Your partner could become an added motivation to wake up early and train.
  3. Try a different route. Surely, there are a lot of areas for you to run in your place. Do not run on the same route for consecutive days. This will make your training a bit boring. Plan your daily route so that you see different environment and even different people when your running.
  4. Think about the reward. Most of us if not all are easily motivated with a reward. So make sure that you think of your reward and always keep it in your mind. For example, when I train for a race, the reward I am thinking about is the medal I will receive or the souvenir shirt I could proudly wear after I finish the race.

Running Pace

We often hear the word Running Pace on professionals or those who have been into trail running for a long time already. For beginners, don’t’ think about this too much. However, you should make sure that you do not over pace. It’s not that much of a problem if you think you are too slow, as long as you are not running too fast.

Your pace should be an “Easy” pace. This is a running pace where you could still carry on a conversation with someone while running. No heavy breathing for a beginner, it simply means that you are running too fast or its a sign that you have to walk the trail and recover. As you get used to running, you will realize that your walking time would decrease.

Best Exercises for Trail Runners

Strength Exercises

Do the following exercises in 3 – 5 repetition first. I highly suggest you start with the lowest figure so your boy could gradually adapt especially if you are a beginner. Gradually increase the repetition or the time you hold on a certain position as you get stronger. The important thing here is not too much intensity but consistency.

Hill Repetitions

Since your plan is to run on the trail, expect that there will be uphills along the way. It is very important that you get your body acquainted with running uphill and downhill. If you do not have a trail near your location, you can simply find a place where there is a hill or an elevated area.
Hill repeats means you run the uphill and walk the downhill. As you get stronger, you can run the uphill and walk half of the downhill. Doing a variation of these uphill and downhill climbs will help you a lot. This will help your body get used to the constant change in elevation on the trail.

Cross-Training Exercises

  1. Cycling – This will help you develop major leg muscles that will be very useful when running uphill. It is also great for developing your cardiovascular system.
  2. Swimming – One of the best total body working is swimming. With this, it helps a lot of runners since running does not only need lower body strength but also requires a good upper body strength as well.

Safety Tips for Running in the Trail

When you are on the trail, there are some things that you have to carefully consider in order for you to be safe and have fun. Compared to running on the road there are more things to think about because the trail has various terrain conditions and there could be different challenges along the way.

Do’s

  1. Research your Route – Do a research about the route you will be running and as much as possible download the GPS data to your smartwatch so you don’t get lost. You need to figure out if the terrain is rocky, steep or technical. This will be useful for your preparation.
  2. Bring a Friend – As much as possible, avoid running alone on the trail if you are a beginner. You do not know what you will experience so it would be best to have someone with you.
  3. Stay Alert – Always stay alert on the trail, you do not know when you will encounter some animals on the trail especially snakes. Yes, since its a trail, there is a small change that snakes would be around. But, they usually do not hurt if you stay away from them.
  4. Bring a cellphone – A cellphone is very useful when some accidents happen or you get lost on the trail. You can use it to call for help.
  5. Carry food and water – There is no grocery store on the trail so make sure that you bring with you some extra food and water as well. Water is the most important.  If the trail route requires more than an hour to finish, then food and water is a must. Regardless, for beginners, it is always best to be prepared.

Dont’s

  1. Littering on the Trail – The environment on the trail looks really great and has a calming effect on runners. Thus, it would not be good to see any form of garbage scattered on the trail from water containers, plastics and other things that could come from runners. We have to preserve the trail so we could enjoy it for a long time.
  2. Getting Discouraged Easily – During races, don’t get easily discouraged. If you feel like you can’t continue anymore, you can always stop and take your rest. Don’t be discouraged and quit. Most of the time, all you need is to rest for a while to regain your strength.
  3. Running in Long Stride – You might see professional runners do this, but remember they trained so hard to keep running on this pace. Since you are a beginner, it is inefficient to run like your leaping forward. You will easily drain your energy.
  4. Trail Running with Inappropriate Shoes – Yes, you can run the trail using any type of shoes. However, it would be more efficient and safe to run using running shoes intended for the trail. You will be prone to getting injuries if you run with inappropriate shoes.
  5. Running Hard – In trail running, it is best to run smarter than harder. This means that you have to stick with your training pace. Do not run too hard trying to outrun other runners. For beginners, your main goal is to get to the finish line as efficient as possible. Do not race with other runners. If you do so, you’ll end up getting burned out right from the start.

Tips on Efficient Running on the Trail

There are certain practices that you have to follow in order to run the trail with fewer risks of injury. It is not enough to just run the trail, it is also important that you run efficiently in order to enjoy this wonderful activity for a longer period of time.

Keep your eyes on the trail

The trail offers a nice view for runners but, you have to keep your eyes on the trail to avoid falling or tripping. If the site is too great to be ignored, the best thing to walk so you are in a better position to marvel at the beauty of nature. You can also stop and take a picture if you want.

Use your Arms and Keep Shoulders Straight

In running technical part of the trail, keep your arms a little wider for added balance and wing out your elbow as needed. As for the shoulders, it has to be straight and aligned with your back. A hunched shoulder puts stress on the back which could lead to an uncomfortable feeling and affects the functioning of your lungs to the fullest.

Shorten your Stride

Running in a short stride is energy efficient. It will help you be able to cross the finish line with still enough strength to enjoy the medal you will receive and mingle with friends. Additionally, a short stride will make you agile which is useful when you try to avoid roots, rocks or muddy areas.

Land on your Midfoot

While still starting, it is best that you train yourself to run properly and the best technique in terms of foot landing is landing on your midfoot. With this, balancing is easy and it could help minimize injury. One of the main reasons why runners tumble on the trail is because they fail to land midfoot.

Learn How to Speed Hike

For beginners, it is best not to run a sustained hill. The best way to deal with hills is a speed hike. This will help you preserve your energy so you can continue running when you reach a runnable part of the trail. Remember that running uphill requires a lot of energy

How to Avoid Injuries

Injuries are part of any sports or physical activities. However, this is something that anyone can avoid especially if you keep yourself knowledgeable about the activity you will be getting into. There are several things you have to remember in order to have fun on the trail and avoid any injuries.

Avoid Running Long Downhill

Yes, it could be tempting to run down hills and the fastest way to deal with it is by running. However, downhills could give too much stress on your legs. So if you are just starting, you can take it easy on downhills and when you reach halfway, you can then start running it. Additionally, you have to be extra cautious when running downhill.

Don’t Run too Hard

When you are training or even in a race, it is very tempting to run as hard as you can to get to the finish line in a short time. However, this is very exhausting. When you are too tired and still keep on running, you become less alert which could lead to untoward accidents. A good rule to follow is to Slow Down when you’re tired.

Wear Proper Shoes

As mentioned earlier, it is best to wear a trail running shoes since this type of footwear is engineered to give you the best trail experience as much as possible. It also helps avoid injuries. Aside from wearing the proper shoes, it is also best to wear it properly. Make sure that the laces do not easily come off since it could be dangerous if you don’t notice this on time.

Stay Hydrated

Water is very important in running. If you go training on the trail, then make sure that you bring enough water to keep you hydrated. This is not a race where there are aid stations to get water and food. And even during races, it is still advisable that you bring water with you to avoid being dehydrated.

Trail Running Benefits

A lot of people these days are into trail running and one of the reasons is for health benefits. Running keeps you fit and helps control your weight.  It is not only good physically but mentally as well.

Physical Benefits

Mental Benefits

Common Questions about Trail Running

Do I need to Join Running Groups / Club?

It is not required, but if given the chance to join, there will be more benefit than harm to joining a running group. The best thing about being in a group is that running is more fun and it becomes easier to make running a lifestyle.

What should I wear?

You have to dress appropriately taking into consideration the nature of the trail where you will be running including the type of terrain and the weather. Above all, it is necessary to wear the suitable running shoes especially when you run in a lot of up and down hills.

Can I walk during runs?

Yes of course, “”trail running”” does not mean that you have to run the entire trail route. You are free to walk anytime. Walking is even an excellent strategy for beginners especially for long runs and even on running events.

How Should I breathe?

This is a common question in the running community. For beginners, it is best that you breathe through both your mouth and nose. This will give as much oxygen as possible to your muscles which you need to keep going.  Also, remember that you must take in more air by breathing from your diaphragm, not from the chest.

How do I get rid of a Side stitch?

One of the most annoying experiences of a runner is side stitch. It is the pain that you feel right below the edge of the ribcage. The best way to deal with this is to walk instead of running. Then gently push the area where you feel the pain using your fingers. Then take long breathes holding it for a couple of seconds then exhale. You can do this while walking.

The most common reason for this experience is improper breathing. So when you feel that you are not anymore breathing properly due to too much exhaustion, it is best to walk. Do not anymore wait to experience side stitch.

How Fast Should I run?

Most runners especially the beginners often wonder how fast they should run. The best running pace is one where you still could carry a conversation with others. This is what is often called the “conversational pace”.

When you start breathing heavily, you are running too fast. It is best to run slow and steady than to run too fast.

What Should I eat before a run?

Running on an empty stomach is not a good idea since you could easily run out of energy. But, you must not also overeat since it could lead to side stitches. A good practice is to eat a light snack 2 hours before a run. Some excellent foods before a run are bread with butter, banana and energy bar. Make sure that you stay away from high fiber foods as it could easily lead to stomach issues.

How long Should I Run Every Day?

It greatly depends on the availability of your time. The most important thing is that you run whenever you have the time so you build endurance in time.  The magic word is consistency.

Getting Ready for your First Trail Race

After you started trail running for a minimum of 1 month, you can now register for your first trail race. However, you have to remember that the main purpose for doing so is mainly to enjoy and get involved in the running community, do not think about trying to outrun other runners in the event especially if you are just starting. Joining trail races is an excellent way to reward yourself for the hard work you put on your training.

Choosing the Right Trail Race

Trail races come in different distances and the most popular are 5k, 10k, half marathon(21k) and marathon(42k).  Now, for starters, it is best to pick 10k especially if you have regularly done your training. If you are not quite confident with your current running state, then choose the 5k distance. After your first trail race, you can then determine which would be the best distance for your next trail race. ”

Contact Race Organizer for Important Details

After you have decided which category to run and getting registered. The next step would be to do your research about the race.

You need to have an idea on the following:

You need to know all of these in order to make the proper preparation. Remember that each trail race is different so each even requires a different preparation.  Doing your research and doing the right preparation would lead to a wonderful trail experience.

Plan Your Race Nutrition

One of the most important preparations for any race is your nutrition especially when you run a distance of 1ok and up. The simple idea is that proper nutrition will give you the energy you need to finish the race in the best possible way.

In general, you have to ensure that you are properly hydrated or you drink enough water especially when the weather is hot.
You also have to bring some foods with you. These should be the foods you were used to eating while training. Aid stations will most likely provide you with some foods to eat. Make sure not to eat too much as it might lead to stomach discomfort. Additionally, if you are not used to eating the foods you see in the stations, do not force yourself to eat any of these. The safest would be chips and fruits.

Trail and Race Etiquette

  1. Yield to other trail users like hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.
  2. When you are going uphill, yield to those who run downhill
  3. Do not move trail marks
  4. Do not litter.
  5. Run the mud part, do not try to find another route to go around them ( others might see your traces and might think its the right path )
  6. Be friendly to all runners on the trail. A simple greeting, a wave or even just a nod would go a long way.
  7. Before leaving aid stations, do not forget to give thanks to the volunteers.
  8. Help a Runner in Need.

Some Trail Running Terms

Bib

The sheet printed with the runner’s name and number (bib number). This is used to identify the registered runners on the trail.

Bonk

A term used when a running is running out of energy and having a hard time to continue running. Most runners feel like vomiting when in this state.

Carbo-loading

This term is often used for long-distance running in a minimum of 21k. It is the practice of increasing carbohydrate intake a day prior to the race event. This will help increase glycogen in the muscles which will be used during the race.

Chafing

Blistered part of the body commonly the skin due to the friction of clothing on the skin.

DNF

Did Not Finish. Refers to runners who failed to finish a race.

Overpronation

A type of running form where the there is an excessive inward motion of the foot which leads to pain and overall discomfort.

Pace

This term is used to describe how fast you are running. Often expressed in minutes per mile or minutes per kilometers.

Personal Record (PR)

A runners’ farthest and fastest time in a race.

Side Stitch

The pain you feel just below the rib cage. This often happens due to improper breathing or too much food in your stomach.

Ultra/Ultramarathon

Any race where the distance if longer than a marathon.

The Wall

Its the term used when a runner is pretty exhausted and run out of energy. This is the time when negative thoughts start to dig in.

Trail Running Gear to Get Started

Read our guide on how to choose the best gear to get started on your Trail Running journey.

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