3 Ways to Improve Your Trail Running

Trail running is a great way to enjoy nature and switch up your road running routine. You can get away from noisy traffic, connect with your environment and be very present. There are so many beautiful trails to run and hike, however there are some things to keep in mind when getting into trail running. Below are several tips for runners getting into trail running.

trail running for beginners

Slow Down on Your Trail Runs

There are two main types of trails:

  • Fire roads and groomed trails, these are wider trails that are usually more maintained and in better condition.
  • Single track, these trails can be more challenging and technical with rocks, trees and un-even terrain.

Trails have a softer surface than roads. Many trails also have some type of elevation gain and loss.

One of the first things you will probably notice is that running on technical trails, in combination with hills, will require much more effort than running on a flat smooth road. 

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It is good to realize that it is totally normal to slow down your running pace when you run on a trail. For example, if you normally run on roads with a pace of 9 min / mile (5:35 min / km), this same effort on trails might require you to slow down to a 10 to 12 min / mile (6:13 - 7:27 min / km) or slower, depending on the terrain and elevation gain.

A lot of experienced trail runners learn to power hike the hills, to save energy. Then once they reach the top and are going downhill, they can let go and run down much faster because they have energy and leg power left. 

Use your energy wisely and learn to slow down. Focus on your effort level and time on your feet and not your running pace. Adjust your pace based on the terrain and elevation gain. Get used to walking and power hiking to keep your heart rate and breathing under control. 

Trail Running Techniques

Learn to take smaller steps when you run trails. This faster cadence will help reduce the risk of falling. On the uphills, small steps require much less effort. On the downhills, it takes time to get used to the a faster turnover of steps. My friends and I sometimes jokingly call it "tap dancing on rocks". Over time you will learn how to flow up and down the trails. Start slow and after several trail runs you will get more confident and you can increase your cadence and pace. 

Trail running techniques

Use hills to your advantage. When power hiking up steep hills, try putting your hands on your legs to help reduce the required power from your legs. When running down a hill, lean slightly forward. This way you can use gravity to your advantage, this will significantly reduce the amount of energy needed to get down a mountain trail. 

When you are running on a straight road, you can close your eyes for a while and you'll be fine. Try running on a trail with your eyes closed and chances are that you'll be eating dirt and rocks pretty fast. Even with your eyes wide open, trail running requires much more focused attention. Mind your step and keep your eyes on the trail. Look about 5 feet ahead to know where you are going.

Picking the right trails for your experience level

For some road runners looking to get into trail running, the trails can be intimidating. Just like any other challenge, you can start out with some short runs on mellow trails to build confidence. There are many great websites and apps out there to find hiking and running trails near you. A few popular ones: All Trails, Trail Link, and Trails.com. Another great option is to use the Segment Finder in the Strava App

trail running guide for beginners

You can always start out hiking a trail and whenever you feel ready, go for a short jog, then back to hiking again. Over time as you get more comfortable and confident with the un-even terrain and elevation, you can increase your time on the trails and find more technical trails. 

One brief note about trail etiquette. Be aware there might be other runners, hikers, mountain bikers, horses, etc.

Yield to other users on the trails. Uphill runners should yield to downhill runners. It goes without saying, always be respectful to everyone on the trails.

In closing

Running can give you a feeling of absolute freedom, being completely present in the moment, surrounded by the beauty of nature. If you are just starting to get into trail running, great, welcome to the crew! This is a different type of running, take away the pressure of running specific paces, and just enjoy the time out there on your feet. We are so incredibly fortunate to be able to run all these beautiful trails. Have fun out there!

Do you have any additional tips to runners getting into trail running? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you have any local trails you'd like to write about on our blog for Trail of the Week, we want to hear from you

Trail running powder mountain utah

Some Trail of the Week inspiration: 


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