Trail Running 101: 5 Things You Need to Know Before Hitting the Trail

Getting outside in nature is beneficial for the mind, body and spirit. If you are a runner, you might be thinking about making the transition to the trail. Let’s talk about everything you need to know to hit the trail like a pro!

Beyond the obvious, how does running on trails really differ from running on roads? You can expect your pace to be a bit slower on the trail as you navigate obstacles such as roots, rocks and mud. In addition, you might encounter bigger hills and elevation gain if you’re running in a mountainous area. While the terrain might be more challenging in some ways, there are definite benefits to running on trail. Most notably, trails often provide a softer surface which lessens the impact of running. The varying terrain and elevation means your foot strike and muscle groups used may change during the course of your run. This in turn may help prevent overuse or repetitive motion injuries that you might encounter from road running.

Step 1

Trail Running Shoes

Shoes built for the trail are slightly different from road shoes. Trail running shoes are designed to protect your foot from all the hazards you might encounter. You’ll notice that most trail shoes have more aggressive lugs on the bottom for improved traction on slippery surfaces. Some trail shoes provide extra cushioning and rock plates to help protect your feet as well. Look for trail shoes that are suited for the type of terrain you’ll be running.


running shoes

Step 2

About Those Hills

When we talk about running trails, it’s important to note that many trail runners do some hiking while out in the wilderness. Don’t feel discouraged if you need to walk a big hill or a technical rocky section. Most trail runners like to call this “power hiking” and there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed about it!

Step 3

Locating Trails

You may be wondering how to find trails suitable for a run. There are several apps that make it a breeze. AllTrails, Trail Run Project and Gaia GPS are great apps to check out. You can search for trail runs in your area and even see trail details and reviews before you go.

Step 4


Once you begin trail running regularly, you’ll want to make sure you have some safety supplies with you. If you are running in a remote location, make sure you let someone know where you are going and what time you’ll be back. A small first aid kit will come in handy for any falls that might happen. Speaking of falls—make sure to keep your eyes on the trail and scan ahead about 10-15 feet. With practice, you’ll gain more confidence navigating obstacles on the trail. If you’re feeling a little unsure about making the leap to trail running, look for a local trail running club in your area. Running with a buddy can be fun and provide extra safety.

Step 5


When running trails, you’ll want to pay attention to the rules in place for the area you are using. As with hiking, practice leaves no trace principles, stay on the designated trail and yield to those going uphill. Be aware that cyclists and horseback riders may also utilize the trails.

Once you’re ready to take your first trail run, remember to take your time, plan ahead and most importantly, enjoy the scenery!  


What are your trail running tips?

Lauren Beihoffer is a connoisseur of trails and mountains, experienced ultrarunner, UESCA certified running coach, PN certified nutrition coach, biochemist and mom to three boys. 


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