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Why write a trail running guide? Isn’t it just as simple as lacing up and running into the woods? A quick web search would lead you to believe as much. But we wager to guess Wikipedia hasn’t run a single trail in its life. Here’s what you need to know before getting started.
4 Awesome Reasons to Get into Trail Running
- Hitting the pavement or running the same paved loop can be tedious. It can also be tough on the joints.
- The predictability of roads you’re familiar with can dull your appetite for running, especially if you’re training for long distances.
- Changing up the scenery (quite literally) can do wonders for the mind. The woods offer a solitude not achieved with vehicles whizzing by. Plus, hills, flat sections, roots, water features and other obstacles add a little more challenge and fun to your outing.
- Having to focus on your next stride forces you to live in the moment – refreshing!
5 Challenges Specific to Trail Running
Trail running requires concentration
Being aware of changes in depth and surety of footing is paramount to avoiding injury. Take it from me – I once fractured my foot while clearing a root. Upon landing I rolled my ankle with such force that it left me in a cast for five weeks. While the woods are a contemplative environment, it’s best to keep focused.
Can I just use my cross-trainers?
You can certainly try out trail running with your runners, but if you’re going to run frequently, investing in a dedicated trail shoe is a sure bet.
What features of a shoe should I look for?
The goal is to find a light and versatile trail runner to stabilize your foot over varied terrain. You want optimal agility from start to finish. A shoe like the Merrell All Out Crush wears like a feather yet protects against sharp sticks and rocks. For mixed terrain (compact and soft trails) and wet weather, you’ll want to inspect the shoe’s sole. We like that All Out Crush features M-Select Grip technology. Basically that means the outsoles deliver durable, highly slip-resistant stability wherever trails may lead you.
How to care for your footwear
Trail runners take a beating. Extend their longevity by wiping them clean and setting them out to dry promptly after use.
Naturally, heavily wooded areas are habitats for forest friends; it’s just a matter of time before you encounter an animal. Most often you’ll spy dogs on the trail (and their human owners) and deer. Depending how frequently you run, where you go and time of the year, you may encounter a more aggressive animal. That being said it’s important to brush up on your wildlife safety.
For all encounters, stop running. You don’t want to provoke a chase. Here’s what to do if you see a bear. If you meet a cougar, wolf or coyote it’s best to prove you’re not worth the trouble. Intimidate and slowly back away.
Running along a wooded, winding trail is good fun (do you feel like a kid again?) but it also limits a runner’s visibility. Proper, upright running posture will help maintain your field of view. Running during the day ensures daylight still filters through the tree canopy. If you’re running near dusk, wearing a headlamp is a good idea. Technically you can run after dark too; we recommend doing so with a buddy.
If you’re used to running on the road, don’t be surprised if you feel some new aches after hitting the trail. Because of varied terrain, you’ll be using more of your core. Strengthening things like hip flexors will help you swiftly navigate over fallen trees and creeks with more agility. Take the time between runs to ensure you’ve fully recovered.
How to Pick a Suitable Trail
- Checking trail websites like TrailPeak.com offers good indication of whether a trail is suitable for trail running. Inspect the length and overall elevation gain and loss. You don’t want to set out on a trail only to find it’s more of a grunt than a run. Finding the perfect ratio of total kilometres and vertical gain can be a challenge. If you’re just starting out, pick a trail with less than 100 metres of gain. Work your way up from here.
- Trails are rated for difficulty: easy, intermediate and difficult.
- Peruse the comment section to see what special notes other users have recorded. This can be handy in spring and fall to check if trails are still covered with snow.
- Check to see if a trail is multi-use so you know to expect. Will you encounter mountain bikers and equestrians. If so, it might be prudent to only use one ear bud as not to spook or be spooked by other users.
- Trail running with Fido seems like a great idea; a run through the woods benefits you both. Sticking to dog-friendly trails isn’t just about good trail etiquette, it’s smart pet ownership. Travelling through the back country with your dog can seem like a wildlife deterrent, but often it does just the opposite. A confrontation can be stressful for everyone: you, wildlife, and your pet.
Trail Running Quick Tips
Don’t hunch down to tackle uphill sections. It may feel intuitive but it actually constricts your breathing.
Know when to walk. Trails were designed by Mother Nature, not runners. Some bits are just too technical to safely maintain your pace. Other times, the uphill elevation is too taxing. Repeat after me: it is okay to walk. Even veteran trail runners embrace a slower pace.
Use your arms. Plenty of trails are hilly; use your arms to help stabilize. Plus, when passing through narrow sections -especially when fatigued – you can use your arms to guide you or grab tree branches.
Always let someone know where you’re headed and when you expect to return. Unlike hikers, trail runners typically venture out with less gear. If you get turned about or lose your way, you won’t have extra layers, food or gear to rely upon.
What to pack? You’ll want to be hydrated and hands-free. A multi-bottle waist belt is the perfect solution.
What to wear? Dress in lightweight clothing, as you would for road running. Trail running tends to be a bit dirtier/muddier. Tears, snags, and frequent laundering means more wear.
Depending on personal preference and the season you may want to consider sunscreen or bug dope.
How to Train Specifically for Trail Running
Tripping is easy to do when you’re tired or distracted. Lift those feet a little higher to clear trail obstacles and debris.
Training to tackle hills better is basically an exercise in stride management. See what advice Ryan Ervin, a former Canadian mountain running team member, shared with Explore.
Swipe these three exercises for strengthening runners’ arms.
Golden Rules for all Trails Users
- Leave no trace: pack-in-pack-out and don’t litter
- Try not to damage the trail
- Slow down where trails intersect, especially if they are marked for multi-use. Yield smartly.
Are you an avid trail runner?
What advice would you lend?
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