How to Start Trail Running – The ULTIMATE Beginners Guide

Trail running is, without doubt, one of the fastest growing running niches with more and more people heading off road and onto the dirt each year. In this guide, we'll tell you exactly how to start trail running and take you from trail novice to mountain goat capable of dancing over even the most technical terrain. Let's get started...

How to Start Trail Running – The ULTIMATE Beginners Guide

India Lewis
  • Post by India Lewis
  • Last updated: December 30, 2017

You wanna try the trails, eh?

Good choice.

Not only are there some fantastic health benefits, but it’s also a chance to explore your local area in new ways.

For me, trail running always seems so much more enjoyable.

While running on the road can sometimes feel like a chore, running offroad always seems… fun.

As for trail races – they are some of the most enjoyable events that you’ll ever take part in!

Events can range from short but challenging 5K races right through to 100-mile ultra races!

As you’ll see over the course of this guide, learning the skills necessary to get the most out of trail running isn’t tricky.

That said if you want to achieve the kinetic poetry that an experienced trail runner such as Kilian Jornet displays, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time refining those necessary skills.

Getting Started

You don’t need a whole lot to get started with trail running, just a solid pair of running shoes!

While you can get away with regular road shoes when the ground is dry, to get the most from your runs, we recommend you go with a pair of trail-specific shoes.

If you’re thinking about buying a pair of trail shoes, make sure you check out this post on what to look for in trail running shoes.

As optional extras, I’d also recommend:

  • A good GPS running watch to track your route, distance, and pace.
  • A trail running backpack when you start to cover longer distances.
  • A good handheld water bottle to carry fluids with you when you’re on the go. It’s worth noting that a lot of trail runners now prefer hydration bladders as this allows them to keep their hands free for when the need to scramble up and down ledges.

Now you know what you need to get started, let’s take a look at what to expect…

What To Expect When You’re Out On The Trail

First, things first, you need to understand that you’re in for an entirely new experience!

Even experienced road runners will initially find the going tough when they first take to the trails.

The constant undulation, changing terrain, and technical challenges can make trail running exhausting.

If you usually run an hour on the road, when you first head off the road, shorten those runs to 30 minutes to avoid overdoing it.

Even for experienced runners, your legs are going to ache from using your leg muscles in different ways, take it easy at first and build up – just as you did back when you first started running.

While you might use different muscles, one thing that’s for sure is that you’re going to run over some truly stunning terrain. Check out this list for some trail running inspiration.

Getting Technical Terrain

When you run on the road, the most technical challenge that you’ll come across might be a higher than average curb.

On the trails, it’s a whole different story.

An average trail run can see you running up loose gravel tracks and then come down wet grassy ground leaping boulders and tree roots, all while skirting perilously close to cliff edges.

Sounds fun right?

Build New Skills

To survive out there you’re going to need to learn a few new skills.

The first on the list is the ability to move well downhill.

The video below does a pretty good job of running you through some basics drills that you can practice to improve your downhill skills.

Next up, and this is a tough one…

Get used to walking.

We’ve mentioned this trail running tip before, but it’s one that can seem foreign to beginners!

On the road, even the longest hill may only go on for a quarter of a mile. Offroad it’s an entirely different story.

In longer races, you can spend hours going up with some incredibly steep sections where running is inefficient.

By walking on the really slow sections, you can save your energy for the downhill where you can really pick up some speed and make the time back up.

Think About Safety

If you’re new to the trails, it’s probably worth checking out our post on offroad running safety. While running in the great outdoors can be enormous fun, it does require you to think a little more about your safety.

So there you have it you now know exactly how to start trail running. All that’s left for you to do is head out and take on your first trail run.

Brooks Running