The old saying, “A change is as good as a rest” can certainly be applied to running. Getting off the roads and onto trails can be a tonic for both body and mind, but if you’re new to trail running, getting the most out of your run means preparing before you go. In this article, we give 7 Top Trail Running Safety Tips.
Okay, the whole idea of taking to the trails is to get off the beaten track, right? Wrong. Unless you’re an experienced fell runner, mountain goat, or member of the Navy Seals, you should avoid venturing off clearly defined paths when you go trail running.
Depending on where you live, sticking to the “beaten path” doesn’t mean you’ll be surrounded by people when you run, but it does mean you’re less likely to get lost, and it gives others a sporting chance of finding you if you do.
Following on from the above, planning your run route and telling someone where you’re going is the simplest way to ensure you’re not left stranded in the wilderness if something goes wrong.
Stuff happens; you might go over on your ankle, trip over a tree root and twist your knee, or just get tired out from running on unfamiliar terrain, so letting someone know where you intend to go and how long you intend to be out there for makes it a whole lot easier to locate you if you’re taking longer than anticipated.
The California Department of Parks and Recreations recommend that you always let atleast one person know your route and roughly how long you plan to be out.
You might be someone who likes to run alone, but if you’re new to trail running it can be a good idea to team up with another like-minded runner who knows the area well and can show you the best routes for your level of experience – without feeling the need to engage you in conversation the whole way around!
But if you like running in company, why not organise a group trail run? You might all be new to trails but there’s safety in numbers if one of you needs help.
At the risk of stating the obvious, running on trails is totally different to running on roads or on a treadmill (if you’re interested in experiencing treadmill running, make sure you check out our best budget treadmill for runners guide here). It may be obvious, but it’s a fact that’s often overlooked by many newcomers to trail running. Even on trails deemed suitable for beginners, trail running shoes designed to cope with variable trail terrain are an absolute must. This doesn’t mean investing in a top-of-the-range pair, it simply means not setting out in super-lightweight road running shoes or indoor gym shoes that are not up to the job. Unless your shoes provide the grip required to run on changing surfaces, you’re setting yourself up for a slippery run – in fact, you might as well set off in your slippers.
Other dress considerations:
Socks – again, depending on where you live, your socks and shoes may encounter any combination of sand, gravel, mud, stream or bog over the course of one run so you need your socks as well as your shoes to be up to the task. Quick-drying, moisture-wicking, anti-blister fabrics are the way to go.
Leggings – if you live in an area where trails are likely to become overgrown with prickly things at certain times of year, leggings or long socks will provide much greater protection from scratches or stings than shorts alone.
Layers – if you’re new to trail running, the extra effort required to negotiate less than pavement-smooth terrain might make you sweat more than normal, or, if the trails you follow take you up on higher ground, you may notice a distinct change in temperature. For this reason, wearing layers is the best way to ensure you stay comfortable on your run.
It’s important to remember that we’re talking about going on a trail run here, not trekking across Outer Mongolia. Sure, you could strap a truck-load of “emergency” supplies onto your back, but where do you draw the line? For example, a map and compass are only of value if you know how to use them, right?
However, if a user-friendly map of your planned route is available, it could prove useful if you find yourself at a junction; a waterproof or warmer top layer would be of real benefit if you had to sit and await rescue for any reason; extra water and an energy bar or two would keep you going if you were out longer than anticipated, and a mobile phone will provide a means of communication wherever you have a signal – anything else comes down to how much you’re prepared to carry.
To limit the potential to ever need the above “emergency” supplies, don’t set off like Forrest Gump on your first trail run!
As we mentioned in our trail running tips post, running a mile on varying trail terrain is much tougher going than running a mile on relatively smooth road surfaces, so make your first few trail runs shorter in miles than you’d normally aim for until you’ve experienced for yourself just how long it takes you and how tiring you find it.
If you normally run in built-up areas, running on trails will offer a physical and mental breath of fresh air that may well put a spring back into your stride, but, it’s important to stay alert to potential hazards. Uneven ground, changing underfoot conditions and natural obstacles such as exposed tree roots can increase the potential to trip, so you do need to look ahead as well as around you.
And, if you’re running in an area where encountering wildlife could prove hazardous, make sure you have a basic understanding of the best course of action to take. However, if you’re someone who looks for and expects to find danger lurking around every corner, trail running is probably not for you.
Change is as good as a rest, so get out there and give it a go… happy trails!