6 Top Trail Running Tips Every Runner Should Know

These trail running tips are perfect for runners of all ability levels and are guaranteed to help you have a better time on the trail!

6 Top Trail Running Tips Every Runner Should Know

India Lewis
  • Post by India Lewis
  • Last updated: October 9, 2017

Trail running is a fantastic alternative to running on the road.

Getting off the pavement and into nature offers you a whole host of new challenges and adventure.

You’ll get to spend time in nature (which has it’s own health benefits) with the added bonus that you’ll build your endurance through a challenging sport.

For most runners, the transition from road to trail is an easy one.

Especially if you keep the following 6 tips in mind…

1: Keep it Slow and Steady

slow down first

You want to get out into the hills and find a trail that will create a challenge, but you have to understand the inherent differences in a trail run versus a road run.

You might be able to easily cover 5 miles on the road, however, 5 miles on the trails might prove to be a real challenge.

On a normal off road run you could find yourself running uphill, over uneven ground or even in thinner, mountainous air.

This means that you might have to adjust your expectations for time and distance.

You’ll also have to get comfortable with walking, something you may never have had to do on the road.

Walking up inclines is often much quicker than trying to run them. Not only does it allow you to maintain an even pace and intensity level (often equal to that of running on the flat), but it also saves your legs, allowing you to run the downhill and flat sections.

2: Calculate on Time

time on trail need to start slow to find your beginning endurance and time as well as distance.

In any new sport, you’re going to have to start with lowered expectations.

You wouldn’t expect to score a goal in soccer without having played the game previously.

You can’t expect to run to the top of a mountain without having run the trail previously either.

Start with runs of between 30 to 45 minutes and then increase the time every week as you feel your confidence and endurance builds.

You’ll need to ensure you have recovery days built into your routine too as your legs will be using new muscles.

3: Learn Trail Etiquette

The video below is a fantastic guide to not just for trail runners but for anyone who spends time in the great outdoors.

Running off road, there are some unwritten rules for how to treat your fellow runners as well as the environment.

First, you should always bring out what you brought into the wilderness.

Never leave behind gel wrappers, bottles or paper towels.

Even biodegradable items can take weeks to break down but in the meantime, they’re littering the nature that the entire trail running community is trying to enjoy.

You’re sharing the trail with others like mountain bikers, hikers and horse riders too.

You should be prepared to stop and yield to these others nature lovers.

There’s some debate about whether mountain bikers should yield to runners or not, but it’s always best to stop and be prepared to move off the trail.

Cyclists have a harder time stopping than runners.

If you are running a race, it’s always best to put the safety and security of the other racers before the race itself.

If you see someone in trouble, the remoteness of the trail means that it’s up to you to help that person.

4: New Gear Considerations

As a new trail runner, it’s unlikely that you know exactly what you need for trail running.

You might only think you need good running sneakers, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

With no shops in sight, you’ll need to carry all your water and gels/energy bars too.

This means you might need a pack to hold all the items you should have on the trail (especially on long, remote runs).

Make sure it’s lightweight and won’t chafe as you’re running.

A light vest with pockets is a perfect alternative.

While a small medical kit is optional, if you do pack one, it should have bandages, sunscreen, antibiotic wipes, ointment and a small cold pack.

The small kit should fit into one of the vest pockets in case of emergency need.

While specialist trail running shoes are available, you’ll probably want to get a few test runs under your belt before you rush out and buy a pair.

As long as you’re running on less ‘technical’ ground such as on gravel or compacted dirt then you should be able to get away with your standard road shoes.

5: Lift Your Feet and Mind the Trail

When you’re new to running on a trail, you’d be surprised how clumsy you are with your feet.

When running on a treadmill or out on the sidewalk, it’s smooth and straight.

You don’t have to be mindful of where you place your feet.

This is certainly not true of trail running.

Keep a line of focus at least 5 to 10 feet in front of you, so you’ll be able to avoid roots, rocks, and obstructions in the trail.

While doing this, you’ll also need to maintain a good balance with your head over your shoulders.

It can take time to work up from a slow pace to a faster one when you’re learning to run a trail.

While running, your feet shouldn’t be landing too far in front of you. It’ll throw you off balance.

Take short, faster steps to keep yourself stable.

Always be mindful of the trail until you begin to find your footing and learn to run the trail without tripping.

6: Know Your Wildlife

One of the best parts of running a trail is the chance to spot a deer or other beautiful wild animal.

You should always allow the animal to go on its own way when you are running in their habitat, but it’s important that you know what to watch for with any wild animal.

While deer are harmless, snakes, mountain lions, and bears are not.

If you see a coyote alone on the trail, give a shout to scare it away from you. Walking towards a coyote will often make them run.

A Note on Bears

Black bears are common in the U.S., and you should keep your distance.

Never run from a bear.

Stand tall and talk to the bear while backing away, so it knows you’re not normal prey.

Mountain lion encounters are rare, but they happen.

You should try to look as big as possible while backing away from the cat.

Talk to the mountain lion, so it knows you’re not it’s prey.

Merrell has a fantastic guide to dealing with wildlife when out trail running that all runners should check out.

Trail running is a great way to challenge yourself, and it’s also an easy activity that doesn’t require much in the way of gear to start.

These 6 trail running tips should help any fledgling trail runner, so you can make a successful transition from road running to trail running.

Brooks Running