How to Get a Head Start in Trail Running

Trail running is one of the best ways to not only get fit, but connect with nature at the same time. Here are some tips to help you get started in this increasingly popular sport

July 31, 2015
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Bored with your normal running routine? Looking for a good way to mix things up and add new challenges? Than why not give trail running a try? Not only is it one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the world, but it provides some amazing benefits to your overall level of fitness too.

Thanks to the uneven terrain and more difficult trail conditions, trail runners typically end up having a more challenging workout than those who stick to city streets or run indoors on a treadmill. This results in a 10% greater calorie burn over the same distance, which helps to trim fat at a faster rate. Additionally, trail runners typically see improved agility as a result of their training runs, and get a better core workout along the way as well. The fact that they are more engaged with nature brings some additional benefits in the form of stress-relief and greater levels of relaxation too.

Despite the fact that trail running provides a more intense workout, it isn’t particularly difficult to get started with the sport. In fact, if you’re already a runner the adjustments will come fairly easily, and if you’re just starting to run for the first time you’ll be able to pick things up quickly without having to shift away from previous running habits.

Here are some suggestions to help you get going.

Get the Right Shoes

Any runner will tell you that having the right pair of shoes makes all the difference in the level of enjoyment you’ll get from the sport, which in turn helps to keep you motivated for your workouts. This is especially true for trail running, where the demanding trails require a somewhat heavier, more durable shoe to help keep your feet well protected. Unlike running on the streets, trail runners often encounter rock, mud, and even water along their routes. A good shoe will shrug off those challenges and keep you moving at a comfortable pace.

Regular running shoes won’t cut it in that environment for long however, so once you’ve decided trail running is right for you, invest in footwear that is especially made for the sport.

Pick a Trail

Traditionally speaking, trail running is defined as taking place off-road or pavement, but that doesn’t mean it has to be on some incredibly challenging route that takes you deep into rugged, mountainous terrain. Any trail will do, particularly when you’re first getting started.

Look for short, relatively flat routes to begin your trail running routine, and then later expand to longer, more difficult paths. Over time you can mix in elevation changes on hills or mountains to amp up the intensity of your workout and really start burning the calories. But in the beginning it is all about just getting a feel for running on a trail while allowing your body to adapt to the change in environments.

Start Slow

Whenever you start a new workout routine it is important to go slow and ease your way into it. This holds true for beginning trail runners as well, even if they are experienced joggers making the transition over from the road.

Because of the uneven terrain, trail running requires shorter, quicker strides, which will naturally have you running about 20% slower than you would on pavement. This will help you to maintain your balance along the way, and give you a better sense of a connection with the ground. Over time, as you get more accustomed to this style of running, you’ll start to pick up speed again, although it is rare to ever go as fast on a trail as you do on the street.

Be Aware

It is always important for runners to be aware of their surroundings whether they are working out on a trail or on the road.

While trail runners generally don’t have to worry about dealing with traffic, there are other things they need to be extra cautious about instead. For instance, because the trail is uneven, and littered with obstacles, they need to have a greater awareness of surface conditions. Roots, rocks, and mud are just a few of the things you that could cause a stumble or fall, ultimately resulting in an injury. Additionally, depending on your location, wild animals could be more of a concern as well.

Gear Up!

As with most outdoor activities, having the proper gear for trail running can make it a much more enjoyable experience.

For instance, you’ll want technical running clothing that you don’t mind getting muddy, wet, or snagged while out on the trail. Staying hydrated will be important as well, so plan on carrying a water bottle, or better yet a hydration pack. Wearing a pack takes a bit of getting use to at first, but it does allow you to carry an extra layer in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. It also allows you to bring extra items such as a headlamp, cell phone, wallet, or even a snack. Some of those things are simply not needed on a run through your neighborhood, but they could prove very useful on a trail run.

As with most other forms of exercise, trail running gets gradually easier over time. It’s at that point that you’ll not only start to recognize just what a great workout it can be, but how much fun it is too. After all, when the great outdoors becomes your gym, it’s not hard to find the motivation to go.

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