How to Transition from Road Running to Trail Running?

There are several things to keep in mind when transitioning from road running to trail running. Running Coach Jimmy Dean Freeman shares his thoughts. From discovering local trails, to pacing, hiking and more. This is the first of several videos in our "Trail Running Basics" series.

Trail Running Basics

I'm here to talk to you about the trails. It's one of my favorite places to be. A lot of you may be running a lot of roads and you may be wondering how to transition to trail running. The first thing you may want to do is look online, find some local trail running groups, running stores, or even talk to some of your friends who are more experience in running trails than you.

trail running with friends

You are going to get out on the trails and one of the first things you are going to do is try to let go of your pace and mileage goals. When you are on the road, it is easy to get caught up on pace per mile. A 6 mile run on road might not take you very long, while on trails this might take you 50% longer. 

power hiking trails

It is common when you get on the trails to hike a little bit, it is not a continuous run the entire time. You want to start letting go of pace per mile and focus more on your effort and your overall time on feet. 

trail running fundamentals

Some of the things you are going to experience on the trails are scenery, dirt and animals. It's a lot more peaceful place to be and it's a hack of a lot more beautiful. 

You will realize how beautiful it can be and it's the run you will look forward to every time. 

This week enter for a chance to win a $75 PATH projects gift card. To enter, let us know: "what advice would you give to runners looking to start out with or improve their Trail Running?" 1 winner will be picked at random by 4/29/19.

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39 comments

  • Thanks for all of the advice in the article and thanks also to the readers who have provided advice in the comments. I’m new to trail running and have tried Griffith Park a few times. I also listen to the TRN podcast where the hosts advise separate liners and shorts. Why is that? I have (and love) the Tahoe baseliner and the 5" inseam Sykes shorts but I also have lined shorts from Nike, Adidas, Brooks that I prefer for road running especially on hot days. Will these shorts not work well on longer trail runs this summer in the Los Angeles area? Thanks to all who can share some experience and advice.

    deron matsuoka
  • Start with updated equipment, separate base liner is a must. Enjoy and let the run or walk become a passion.

    John Gish
  • Bring water, leave your headphones at home, breathe deeply and pray for no snakes!

    Mark
  • If you are new to the trails I would say turn off your watch (or at least the alerts & pace info) so you can go out and just enjoy the experience. You’ll fall in love with running all over again if you keep it simple!

    Dave M
  • Keep track of your time on feet, not miles or pace; bring snacks; listen to the different sounds; eat snacks; play in the dirt; eat more snacks; look at the views; eat…

    Colin Chapell
  • Run to the tree, walk to the rock. Run to the funny looking bush, walk to the stump. Repeat.

    Garrett Christensen
  • Hey man it’s cool to walk. Almost everyone does at some time during a trail run!! Slow down and enjoy the views!

    Paul Letourneau
  • Make sure to bring along more water on trail runs and maybe an alcohol wipe to clean any unexpected cuts along the way

    Jessi
  • You don’t have to run every step. Always have a plan for water. Tell someone where you’re headed and an estimate of when you’ll be back. Have fun!

    Ryan
  • Smile

    Dustin Pfaff
  • Don’t worry about your time/pace. It’s going to be a lot slower then what you are used to on the street. Each trail is different. What matters is that you are out there. Do your best. Enjoy it.

    Daniel P.
  • My advice, do slow up and do watch where your feet land somewhat ( avoiding tree roots, rocks, etc.) Then enjoy the beauty and surroundings the trail has to offer. It really is a lot of fun 🙂👌.

    Michael S
  • Learn to connect with the nature around you: the birds singing, the wind in the trees, or the creek gurgling. The trail is alive!

    Peter E Bonstrom
  • Look for a group of people who are into trail running, the community is awesome and you will learn much faster!

    Victor
  • You probably won’t puke until you hit the 50 Mile distance- Something to look forward to!

    scott keil
  • Don’t expect to run as fast as you do on the road. It’s ok to walk (power hike) the uphills. Look ahead 10-15 feet in front of you!

    Michael Beaudet
  • Don’t focus on your feet and the trail. Look up! Look forward! Look around! Enjoy where you are as the trail passes under you. Stop and look at the views, look back where you’ve just been (it looks different!). Enjoy the silence. Encounter the source of all around you, run with it!

    Steve Gilmore
  • If you are coming from road or track running it can be easy to over concentrate on performance indicators like pace, cadence and heart rate. Doing that on the trail can be dangerous (check the view, not the watch!) and is a set up for disappointment until your are running the same trails over and over again. Find comfort being out of rhythm and hone your focus on the obstacles in front of you. You are gonna be grinding up and down steep hills, hurdling fallen trees, speed dancing thru rock gardens and splashing thru creeks, so concentrate on self preservation and fun rather than the stats. Also, ditch the earbuds. You’ll thank yourself when the mountain biker is bombing on top of you or when the grizzly is charging.

    Marc Weichel
  • Don’t be afraid to fall, it doesn’t hurt that much.

    Isaac
  • Take it easy and don’t look down at your feet,look about 15 feet ahead of you and trust your brain to guide you!

    Michael McCloud
  • Understand that you will be slower than running road. Be alright with forgetting about your pace! Listen to your body. If you need a break, take one. It’s alright to slow down, walk, and stop for a few minutes. Don’t forget to take in the views.

    Gunnar Barrera
  • It is OK to walk up hills.

    Brian
  • Success and enjoyment in trail running all comes down to listening to your body. I was a track and road runner for years before I started hitting the trails, so the importance of consistent pacing was deeply ingrained. In my first few months of trail running, I would kill myself on the hills for fear of dropping off my usual pace. Finally I figured out that pace and time doesn’t mean much when it comes to running up and down mountains — especially over longer distances! Even the elites hike in races. Listen to what your body is telling you, not your watch. If the hill hurts, back off the pace. If you’re feeling great, press on! “Hike early, hike often.” Make it your mantra.

    Jacob Kuntz
  • After running my first trail race last year and my first ultra this year I have learned that finding a good mentor or coach along with several trail buddies have made the switch a successful one for me. I would also advise someone new to the trail to invest in a good pair of trail shoes (Hoka Speedgoat for me) and the right apparel for which you can’t go wrong with any of the Path Projects pieces.

    Paul
  • Forget your pace, remember to smile and don’t forget to stop and enjoy the views!

    Karleen Smith
  • Forget about your pace, road and trail pace are completely different. Also, be patient with distance goals, your body will need time to adjust to the unevenness of the terrain. One more thing, plan your footsteps ahead time especially if the trail is super technical.

    Blake Owen
  • Be patient. It can be hard to hold back when the trails scream “speed up”. Take your time and build up the strength to prevent injury. It’s all about the patience. Have fun out there!

    Thomas Seeley
  • After running my first trail race last year and my first ultra this year I have learned that finding a good mentor or coach along with several trail buddies have made the switch a successful one for me. I would also advise someone new to the trail to invest in a good pair of trail shoes (Hoka Speedgoat for me) and the right apparel for which you can’t go wrong with any of the Path Projects pieces.

    Paul Stockdale
  • Plot out where the park bathrooms are.

    Gerald
  • Bring your own hydration system with you on longer races.

    Nate
  • Shorten your stride to account for uneven terrain. Do yourself a favor and walk/hike the steeper uphills.

    Jordan Miller
  • Find a route you’d like to hike… and just give running it a try. You’ll be loving it in no time.

    Jonezone
  • Spend more time on the trails versus the roads, even if it means running slower or walking. Learn by doing!

    Gio DiDomenico
  • Hike more. Don’t worry about pace.

    Jeremy Sisler
  • Leave the ear buds at home and tune in to the environment around you. Be fully aware of your surrondings

    Joe Van Remortel
  • It’s ok to hike up hills

    Jared Leonhardt
  • don’t overthink it, just go enjoy

    M
  • With your first trail run, try to have buddy, group, or notify someone where you’re running and for how long. So many variables can happen and being a novice, it’s a lot to take in. By having someone around or knows where you are, if some unfortunate accident occurs someone can assist or call someone to assist.

    Andy Hooks
  • Interesting.

    Jon Binnix

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