20 Trail Insider Tips To Achieve Success With Trail Running
You workout. You train. You take fitness classes. You sweat. You ache. And for…?
Working out regularly is tremendous, so don’t get me wrong at all.
It’s just that at least once you ought to measure your fitness, test your fitness, test yourself by doing something out of the ordinary, something .…just damn crazy.
Working out regularly is tremendous, so don’t get me wrong at all. It’s just that at least once you ought to measure your fitness, test your fitness, test yourself by doing something out of the ordinary, something …just damn crazy.
Like Trail Running, which is essentially a run out in nature or your nearby woods. It's the perfect mix of stamina with a dash of crazy if you are used to fitness classes and 5K's done on paved roads. Trail running works the legs and require some good use of your upper body as well. Most trail runners can attest to the fact that it requires concentration and attention to natural obstacle courses that test you in every way possible — and then some.
Trail running opens up a whole new world for runners & fit enthusiasts beyond paved surfaces.
Trail run races are making a comeback due to Covid precautions needed in the running community as it pertains to big in-person events. An abundance of endurance athletes and new trail runners are hitting the trails to stay fit, be socially distanced outdoors and have less of a desire to run even a traditional road race marathon or triathlon.
Many of them are turning to trail running because of the challenge and it tests of every muscle and brain fiber in your body.
You’ll have to run, climb, crawl, hop, walk to endure.
And that’s the fun of it.
Beginner Trail Running Tips Guide
New to running trails or bored with running the same old roads?? We got you!
FastChix Chole had this to share: “Trail running just adds an entire amazing element to running. So if you are tired of running the roads - check out trail running! It's awesome!”
Everything you need to know before heading off to be one with nature on the off beaten path is right here in this Beginner Trail Running & Racing Tips Guide.
It may seem that trail running is similar to running on the roads - far from! There are some special differences and distinctions to be familiar with before you hit the trails.
With our upcoming trail race event, our team wanted to compile a list of our best trail running tips that can act as a guide for you and your training partner.
We want you to have wild fun and a successful race using the following tips which are uncomplicated, practical, keep you safe and not hard to do!
Let’s have some dirty fun on the trails!
20 Trail Running Tips for Beginners
1. All Trails Are Different.
What we love about trail running is that every trail has its own unique set of challenges & terrain. Trails are also dynamic. Heavy rains and droughts can completely alter the trail to present fresh new challenges.
There are groomed trails that are wide, have some of that pretty looking salmon colored crushed limestone or granite - perfect for transitioning from treadmill & road running.
Next up we have those trails which seem to have barely carved out paths - fancy word for it is “singletrack” trails - that come with its own quirky variety of obstacles, including tree roots, rocks, sand, hills, mud, and water crossings.
Singletrack trails tend to be more demanding in nature and offer a dynamic running experience.
2. Trails Have Rules
Leave no trace, and don’t litter - this is like #1 in the trail run commandments.
Be kind and courteous by yielding to other trail users (hikers,mountain bikers, equestrians).
Navigate along marked trails and run through puddles - splash!
Special attention should be given when downhill running. In those instances out on the trail , the downhill runner should yield to uphill runners - the have the vantage point in vision and it’s easier to go down then up.
3. Speed & Ego’s Trail No-No’s
Running trails can be fatiguing when you are first starting out as a beginner trail runner. Think about it - you are using your entire body to navigate and stay upright while moving forward.
You will see a significant drop in your pace (slower) and an increased time it takes you to normally cover the same distance on a run done on a flat surface - when first starting out in your training.
Best thing you could do to truly enjoy nature and embrace trail running would be to ditch your ego, ignore your watch, forget strava segments, slow your pace, and focus on finding your own movement rhythm.
Suzy, an experienced trail runner in our tribe, shared with our teamIn that “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
Trails are typically off the beaten path and not densely populated - so we HIGHLY ENCOURAGE- trail runners to get a Road-ID safety bracelet or shoe charm.
Heading out to the trails requires you to use the buddy system for safety. Run with your training partner or bring your dog if possible.
Local SBRF Tribe Tip: There are special trails for running with your dog off leash in the Austin area, Safety tips from our Tribe include: telling someone which trail you will be at, and taking a FULLY charged cell phone with you for safety, packing extra water/fluids and nutrition, having a copy of the trail map on you or screenshot phone, and use one of those tracking apps/alerts that come with most of our fitness trackers/watches.
Lastly, If you run alone, always be mindful of what’s going on around you and only you  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.
Safely enjoy the sights by walking or stopping to take a few pics; otherwise, 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.
One of gems of trail running of the jenga you play with your mind and physical movements. Jenga - yes you read right - you will eventually get more comfortable running on the trails and enjoy the occasional fall and nicks.
6. Don’t Rush - Slow Down To Get Faster
Comparious if the thief of joy. Do not compare your road running pace to your trial running pace. They will not be equivalent and neither should they be. As you slow your pace you will develop a trail tempo and rhythm. Even your breath and feet will be in harmony. Listen to the tune of your body.
When first starting out running trails, run for time, run by effort levels, and by your heart rate if you have a fancy watch and seasoned endurance athlete.
Beginner trail runners, that may mean walking the hills and running the downhills. Eventually you will build up to running the hills slowly, and you’ll prevent injury and burnout along the way.
7. Run For Time Not For Miles
Trails are more demanding and technical. Beginner trail runners starting out should run by time at first to get an idea of your trail pacing.
Don’t do like a few of us did - we went out for a 4-5 miler and budgeted an hour tops and made plans to meet friends for brunch immediately afterwards. WRONG!
That 4-5 miler took use closer to 96 mins - a good 36 minutes longer than expected.
From that experience alone we recommend for beginners to run an out-and-back course - it’s a perfect setup to get to know your pace and develop your trail running confidence.
8. Your Legs Have Gears
Did you know your legs have gears just like a bike? Sure they do!🏃♀️
Drag → Crawl → Walk → Wog → Slog → Jog → Hill Interval Running → Running → Downhill Running → Sprinting → Run like hell Zombies are behind you
Our above SwimBikeRun Fun 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, body grow accustomed to nature and your confidence balloons.
9. Trail Hill Running
Secret to running up hills on the trail? Short, quick steps and use your arms to propel you up those hills and steep inclines.
Some hills are so steep & technical they are designed and expected to be walked.
Tell your ego and your garmin watch to take a chill - runners who walk the hills quickly get a chance to blaze down the backside—it’s a trail thing that even the pro’s do in practice and on race day.
Now running down hill - there are best practices for that so you don’t end up on your face.
Downhill tip #1 - Lean into the downhill slope, open up your stride, and let the hill/gravity pull you down.
Downhill tip #2 - For steep downward hills, keep your stride measured like you going down stairs and use your core to keep your balance upright.
10. Arms Are Trail Running Ammo
Arms come in very handy while out there on the trails. Swinging and pumping your arms aid you with momentum for leaping, and hopping left or right to bypass things on the path like logs or tree roots.
Keep your arms (elbows) a little wider for added balance on more technical trails with tree roots and rocks.
Your stride is a little different than on the roads because you will need to clear rocks and tree roots and lift your feet a little higher off the ground. You also may need to hop left or right to bypass things on the path like tree branches so pump with your arms as you move to maintain momentum.
11. Build Strength And Balance
Don’t forget to hit the gym & free weights for some good old bread & butter strength training moves: chest press, squats, arm curls, lunges, push-ups and dips, deadlifts, calf raises and planks.
Boost your trail running performance with balance/stability exercises a few times a week with using a BOSU ball and TRX bands.
12. Recovery Chill
Trail running will tax your body more than a regular road run. A 2.5 mile train run can be equivalent to a 4 mile run on flat roads.
You may not feel it right away, but DOMS is real with trail running - sometimes 1-2 days later.
Progress your trail mileage slowly and increase your frequency when you get starting out by adding one trail run per week every two to three weeks.
Replenish, Roll, Rest & Recover.
13. What To Wear For Trail Running
Your trail running wear should be made of moisture-wicking fabrics rather than cotton. Socks, too, should be merino wool or synthetic for most comfort while running on rugged terrain.
Cooler or wet weather calls for a lightweight rain shell or windbreaker - nothing expensive and can be found at Target, Walmart or Academy Sporting Goods. .
Dressing in layers is a smart approach for beginner trail runners. This allows you to manage your comfort and easily remove layers as you warm up.
Many trails start off cooler in the morning and as soon as you climb a few hills and stomp through a few puddles you will feel the need to shed the extra layers.
Our Tribe firmly advocates for BRIGHT clothing. After all you want to be seen out in the woods for safety purposes and capture dope selfies.
Game changer: Tights with pockets. You are welcome.
14. Shoes Make A Difference
After a month of adding trail running into your fitness routine - make it a priority to invest in a pair of trail running shoes.
Road-running shoes are just that - sneakers designed to wear on the pavement/road surface.
Save your ankles and possibly your soul by investing in trail shoes. Trail shoes are designed to be a bit more hardier, able to handle rugged terrain, lower to the ground, should fit snug in the heel with a wide toe-box and some models are waterproof/resistant.
Shoe Care Tip: After a wet/muddy run, remove the insoles, wash off the mud, and stuff with newspaper or paper towels to dry. We have some tribe members who swear by sticking them in the dishwasher (try this at your own risk)
15. Gear & Accessories.
Trails are generally shaded - but those UV rays still find ya. Sunscreen is a requirement - period. While ya at it - grab a hat or visor also on your way out the door.
Get you a pair of Goodr Running Sunglasses, beside looking rad they will protect your eyes from trees & bugs.
Get thee some bug spray to prevent insect bites and ticks. Heading out early or late - grab your headlamp lights or a flashlight.
First aid stuff? Stick a few items in our hydration vest for scrapes and poison ivy. Oh..please don’t forget the baby wipes for quick clean ups.
Kristen, a trail running coach in our Tribe, first hipped us to gaiters after we kept complaining about pebbles and mud getting in our shoes. Trail running Gaiters will keep the dirt out of your shoes and give you a pizazz out on the trail.
Bringing your own water and fluids with you on a trail run is a must. If you run out there are no stores or fountains.
Best ways to carry fluids on the run: handheld, multi-bottle waist belt, and camelbak or hydration vest.
Honestly - this one boils down to tolerance and preference and you may have to try them all to find a winner.
17. Trail Running Food/Nutrition
Trail runs lasting about an hour may only require you to carry an energy gel or two. Trials runs longer than an hour will call for more food and bars, nuts, chews & sandwiches will fill that gap nicely and are easy to carry.
Now the exciting part is testing out which foods sit well in your tummy during a trail run; that takes some experimenting. Some might have you running for the port potty.
Sorry - we could not help ourselves. 😅
18. Watches & GPS Tools.
To start out running trails a simple basic sport watch that tells the time would suffice. Tech has permeated our wrists with high-end GPS enabled watches that track distance and speed and can be used to help navigate the woods with compass features.
Some of these devices include a wrist based heart rate monitor that can help maximize the effectiveness of your workout and track calories and efforts more accurately.
Especially if you are running trails in an unfamiliar area, don’t forget your map and using the “find my way back to start” button on your fitness gps enabled watch.
19. Where To Find Trails Nearby
Trust us there are running trails everywhere. Some are hidden and known only by locals and others can be found on the Alltrails website.
Three easy ways to find running trails where you live:
Parks & Recreation website for the city/county where you live will likely have a trail map
Pop in your local running stores or connect with your local run club for suggested trails for beginners.
MapMyRun route search function- (include the “hike” option to open up hidden trails)
20. Signing Up For Trail Race
If you signed up to run your first trail race, a good rule of thumb is to start your training with a mix of trail running and balance it with a few regular road runs.
A simple plan starting out might be 3 runs a week with one being on the trail and each week increase your trail runs and decrease your road surface training sessions accordingly.
Mixing the two types of running will allow you to adapt to the new demands of the trail while maintaining the ability to run on harder surfaces without soreness.
SwimBikeRun Fun recommends you start with training on light, easy, groomed trails, and progress to more technical rugged trails over time.
Trail Running Basics For Beginners Conclusion
If you workout regularly, a trail running or a trail race is a great way to break up the monotony and test yourself.
We can’t stress enough that it’s important to remember that trail running will take you longer than road running does over the same distance.
You will be successful when you plan your first few trail runs based time and follow an out/back route.
The rougher terrain naturally slows your pace and engages muscles that probably haven't been used since college -even if you are a crossfitter - so start slow and don’t commit to a distance that you’re not prepared for.
Many towns and cities have documented mapped out trail systems that make it easy for beginners to choose the best locations for them to run wild with nature. State parks in your area offer great terrain options for beginner trail runs as well.
Well that’s a wrap running buddies on our Beginner Tips For Trail Running guide!
Thinking about signing up for a beginner friendly trail race? Check out runsignup.com SwimBikeRun Fun has three primary types of Trail races – 5K (3'ish, miles ), 10K (6'ish, miles) and the appropriately named Beauty & The Beast 15K (9-10 miles of rugged terrain).
Hope to see you at one of our trail running events soon!