Beginner Guide to Trail Running
I picked up running during quarantine after the gyms closed. I needed to do something to leave the house (and social distance) so I wouldn’t go crazy. Plus, without my handy stairmaster and cycling classes, I needed something to do to make sure I kept up with my cardio training. So I started running around my neighborhood.
Once trails started opening up in the spring months, I expanded to trail running. After all, there is no such thing as having too many outdoor hobbies. Plus, it’s a great way to exercise outdoors and train for more strenuous hikes and backpacking trips.
In partnership with Injinji, I’ve created this beginner guide to trail running that will help you get started too.
Set a Goal
First thing first, you should set a goal. That goal is going to look different for everyone. It could be to train for a specific trail, or to hit a certain mileage goal, or even to lose a couple of pounds. Remember, this is your goal, and give yourself permission to set it without self judgment. You’re doing this for yourself.
Think About Your Feet
Next, you need to think about your feet! Nothing sucks more than being uncomfortable. So you really want to pay close attention here.
Whether you’re running on the road around your neighborhood or trail running, you need appropriate footwear. Make sure the shoe fits correctly, nothing is pinching anywhere or rubbing you the wrong way, and make sure it has enough cushion to support your feet.
Also, make sure to replace your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles to avoid injuring yourself. As a general rule as well, if the thread on your shoes is worn out, replace the shoe. For example, worn out shoes or not having enough cushion can give you shin splints. From personal experience, these suck and put you out from running for a while. So let’s do our best to avoid them.
Your socks also play a huge role in making sure your feet are comfortable. I wear Injinji toe socks on all of my hiking, snowboarding, running, and gym adventures… sometimes daily too.
Not only do they prevent blisters, but they also enhance your foot’s flexibility and utilize your whole foot. Improving your range of motion in your feet can help keep your feet and ankles strong. It can also prevent any mild foot pain because of the improved flexibility. Still not convinced toe socks are the way to go for your adventures? Read through this blog that breaks down five reasons why you should try them.
From there, research some trails! Not every trail will be the same. Some are going to be steeper, narrower or wider, have more obstacles or less, and have different types of obstacles such as loose rock, tree branches, etc.
Now this one might seem simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “I don’t live near trails.”
You don’t need to live near mountains to go trail running. There are small parks in your local area that you can go running in. Just take a look at a map. Generally, any green area on a map will have some sort of trails on it. Just take time to research.
I know it’s easier to sit on this reason for why you can’t trail run, this keeps you in your comfort zone, keeps you from going for it, and from possibly making a fool of yourself, or at least feeling like one. But you know what’s on the other side of your comfort zone?
The life you want.
Plus… we’ve all felt like fools before. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. Look on a map or use an app like AllTrails to see what’s near you.
Pick a Time
I love running first thing in the morning when the birds are chirping, the air is crisp and it just is a great way to start the day. Sunset is also a fantastic time to run because it’s cooler outside and the sun isn’t beating down on your head.
Of course, if you prefer a mid-day run, go ahead and do that. Just be mindful of the weather. You might not want to be out there in 100 degree weather.
Fueling Your Body
Eating well at home and hydrating will give your body the energy it needs to be able to successfully trail run.
When you’re trail running, you’re going to want to bring water with you, especially on longer runs. You can do this in a small backpack with a bladder, or a vest with one or two water bottles.
If you’re going on a longer run that might take several hours, you should also bring snacks with you to keep your energy going. Energy gels, nuts, bars, and other lightweight snacks are a great option.
Dress according to the weather. If it’s raining, wear a rain jacket and pants that are going to keep you dry. If it’s snowing, layer accordingly so you don’t overheat yet stay warm. If it’s summer, wear loose fitting clothing that will keep you cool.
You also should remember to wear moisture-wicking clothing. Whether you’re running in the summer or winter, you want to stay dry. In the winter, staying dry will protect you from getting hypothermia, while in the summer, you’re not going to feel so much better then if you’re drenched.
Improving Your Endurance
When you’re first getting started, expect to be slow, and don’t focus on your speed too much. Your body is getting used to running and the strain you’re putting on it and needs time to adapt.
If you want to see your progress week by week, you can keep track of how many miles you ran, elevation gain, and other statics from smart watches like an Apple Watch or a Garmin, and from apps like Strava.
If you’re not able to run straight through, do run/walk intervals. And try to keep track of how long your running/walking intervals are so you can keep track of how you’re progressing. When I was getting started, I would run as long as my body would allow me too and then I would give myself a few minutes to walk and catch my breath and repeat for the entire run. Give yourself grace and don’t be harsh on yourself. Over the coming weeks, you will notice your body getting stronger and being able to run for longer and longer.
The key to improving is consistency!
Trail running and exercising here and there is not going to make you stronger and improve your endurance. This is why tracking is very helpful because it gives you some accountability and a visual of how you’re improving. Once you start to see the results, whether that’s you running faster, your jeans fitting better, or being able to cover more miles, you’re going to want to keep going.
But there will be days when you are overflowing with excuses not to go. It’s hot, it’s cold, you’re tired, you have a lot of work to do, you’re sore, and so it goes. Those are all excuses. And remember how we talked above about staying in your comfort zone? Yup… that’s what all of those excuses do. I promise you, if you get up and do it, you’re going to feel a million times better afterwards.
You’ll never regret exercising, but you might regret not.
Of course, if you’re really sore because your body needs an active recovery day, or if you’re sick, then yes, absolutely take a day or more off to let your body recover. There is such a thing as overdoing it. But you need to be really honest with yourself. Does your body actually need a break, or are you looking for reasons to just not go? Get real with yourself.
In addition to all of that, you also should do strength training throughout the week, especially working your lower body. That will strengthen your body to be able to continue to improve, get faster, run for longer, and keep pushing your body to do more.
Rest and Recover
Before your run, you want to be doing dynamic stretches to warm up, and you want to also make sure that you’re stretching after your run. You also want to be stretching after every workout. Stretching is such a huge part of injury prevention. Most of us get busy with our lives, and usually that’s the first thing to be cut when we’re trying to get out of the house and get to work in the morning. But we need to start making time to stretch rather than hoping it fits into your schedule.
Stretching isn’t something that you need to spend hours on, cut out 10 to 15 minutes daily to stretch right after your workout while your body is warm. Or if you’re not working out that day, stretch after you shower because your body will be warm. Back in my ballet days (I danced ballet for like 12 years), I would stretch right after a shower and that helped so much.
It’s also going to loosen those muscles and improve your performance.
Make sure to also add in rest days. Exercise breaks down muscle fibers and rest helps them rebuild so you get stronger. On your rest days, just focus on stretching and using a foam roller.