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Trail running tips for beginners

trail-running

Tempted to take your run off the beaten path? If you primarily run on roads, taking up trail running can challenge you in a new way and rekindle your love for the sport.

Running on trails is a little different than road running, though, and there are certain tips you’ll need to heed to stay safe. Keep the following in mind when transitioning to trails:

Packed, dirt trails can be one of the best running surfaces for your body. They offer more give than pavement and concrete, and are ideal for runners with shin, knee, and IT band issues. However, if you have ankle problems, the soft, uneven nature of the trails may increase your chance of ankle sprains.

Trails come with a lot of natural hazards, such as uneven terrain, steep inclines and declines, branches sticking out of the ground, soft spots in the sand, and low-hanging trees. It’s important to always glance about 10- 15 feet ahead of you instead of keeping your head down, so you can spot obstacles up high and down low.

Trail-specific running shoes may protect your feet best. Trail running shoes offer better cushioning and more support. They also help you grip the trails better so you don’t slip. Get fitted for trail running shoes at a running specialty store, just like you would for road running shoes.

You may need to change your technique, specifically your stride. A shorter stride will help you stay balanced on uneven surfaces. On trails, your foot lands differently with each step because the surface varies. This may leave you feeling extra sore after the first few trail runs.

Your pace will be slower. Sometimes, much slower depending on how steep or narrow the trails are. Aim to run for a certain amount of time, not a specific distance so you don’t get discouraged seeing your pace.

Always know where you’re going and tell someone your plans. If it’s your first time on a new route, bring a buddy who knows the area. Always run with a cell phone, a map, and a whistle – and tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.

Beware of wildlife. Depending on where you live, you may spot snakes, foxes, deer, or bears. Always be aware of your surroundings – consider leaving your music at home – and never approach or disturb wild animals. Likewise, try not to touch any plants to prevent a possible allergic reaction. If you run with your dog, keep him on a leash so he stays safe.

Trail running is ideal during the summer months. The trees provide natural shade which can help keep you cool during the hottest time of year. Note that you’ll still need to use sunscreen.

Expect a more laid back atmosphere at races. Trail racing is a different experience from road racing because it’s more about your journey than your finish time. It’s not unusual to chat the whole time with other racers or see runners making a full stop at fuel stations – trail runners often stop to eat instead of eating on to go.

Written by Jen Matz.