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  • Writer's pictureSwimBikeRun Fun

20 Trail Running Tips for Beginners (Part 1)

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

This Beginner Trail Running Guide provides everything you need to know before getting started with trail running. Using these simple, practical, safe, and not difficult tips, you will have wild fun training and a successful trail running experience!

Female Trail Running in YMCA Camp Moody Trail Event

20 Trail Running Tips for Beginners

1 - All Trails Are Different.

Every trail run is an unique experience since every path is distinct. While some trails are flat, dirt tracks that weave softly through a park, are the majority of the types of routes that come with a range of unique challenges and characteristics like roots, boulders, gravel, stream crossings, steep climbs, and rapid descents.

2 - Trails Have Rules

This is the first of the trail run commandments: leave no trace and don't litter. Respect other trail users by moving aside politely (hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians). Run through all puddles while following trail paths that have been marked. If you're running downhill, pay extra attention. In those situations, downhill runners should let uphill runners pass because they have a better field of vision and it is simpler to go downhill than uphill.

3 - Running Pace on Trails

When you first begin your training, you will notice a noticeable drop in your run pace (slower) and an increase in the time it takes you to complete the same distance on one of your regular road routes. The best thing you could do to truly appreciate nature and embrace trail running is to put your ego aside, disregard your watch, forget about Strava segments, slow down, and concentrate on developing your own movement rhythm.

Suzy, an experienced trail runner in our tribe, shared with our team - “if you stick with it, in a matter of weeks, you’ll be running up hills you used to walk, and you’ll embrace being one with the terrain”.

4 - Trail Buddy Safety System

Since trails are frequently remote and sparsely populated, we STRONGLY ENCOURAGE trail runners to purchase a Road-ID safety bracelet or shoe charm and if it's possible, go for a run with your training partner or bring your dog.

Local Run Tribe Tip: In the Austin area, there are designated off-leash running trails.

Our Tribe's safety advice includes telling someone where you'll be going on the trail, carrying a fully charged phone for security, bringing extra water, fluids, and food, having a copy of the trail map on you or taking a screenshot of it, and using one of the tracking apps or alerts that come with the majority of our fitness trackers or watches. Lastly, If you run alone, always be mindful of what’s going on around you and only use [1] earbud if you plan on listening to a podcast/music.

5 - Trail Sighting Scan 3x3

Beginner trail runners when running usually will look down at their feet thinking it will lead to an avoidance of tripping or even ogle at the beauty of nature around them, but doing so can quickly lead to tripping/falling.

Focus on looking three feet ahead and 3 feet to either side to create a sight line of travel that will prepare your next few strides to navigate the upcoming terrain.

6 - Trail Runs Start Slow But Will Get Faster

Comparison is the thief of joy. Never compare your road running speed to your trial running speed. They will not be equal, and they should not be. When you first start running trails, run for time, effort levels, and heart rate if you have a fancy watch and are a seasoned endurance athlete. For inexperienced trail runners, this may entail walking up hills and jogging down hills. You'll eventually be able to run the hills carefully, avoiding injury and burnout along the way.

7 - Run For Time Not For Miles

Trails are more demanding and technical. Beginner trail runners should start by using a 5K trail training plan (check out this free download) that has run workouts by times at first, to gain a feel for their trail pacing as opposed to sessions assigned a specific mileage.

Don't do what a handful of us did: we went out for a 4-5 mile run and planned to meet friends for brunch soon afterwards. WRONG! That 4-5 miler took us closer to 96 minutes - 36 minutes longer than anticipated.

Based on that experience, we recommend that novices do an out-and-back course - it's a great way to get to know your pace and build your trail running confidence.

8 - Beginner Trail Running Pace Chart

Trail Running Pace Chart by Fun Club Athletes
Fun Club Trail Running Pace Chart

Our above Swim Bike Run Fun Club pace chart - is not scientific - but runner tested and approved.😁

Trail running requires that you adjust your pace according to the terrain. When in doubt - walk it out. Running on trails is like doing a Spartan race of some sorts, requiring you to find a way to hop over logs or trudge through mud and sometimes use tree limbs and bushes to slow your descent going down a hill. It gets easier as your mind and body grow accustomed to nature and your confidence blooms.

9 - Trail Hill Running

Some hills are so steep & technical they are designed and expected to be walked. Secret to running up hills on the trail? Short, quick steps and use your arms to propel you up those hills and steep inclines. Downhill tip - lean into the downhill slope, open up your stride, and let the hill/gravity pull you down.

10 - Arms Are Trail Running Ammo

While out on the trails, arms come in quite helpful. Swinging and pumping your arms aka guns - provides momentum for leaping and hopping left or right to avoid obstacles in the way such as logs or tree roots. Keep your arms (elbows) a little wider for added balance on more technical trails with tree roots and rocks.

Looking for Trail Tips 11-20? Here you go: 20 Trail Running Tips for Beginners Part 2


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