Trail Run the Right Way

6 tips for hitting the trails

Summer is the perfect time to hit the trails. The trees provide shade to cool you off when the temperatures soar, and you’ll get some lush flora and fauna viewing along with your workout.

But if you’ve always trained on the roads, the trails can be intimidating. Here are a few tips that can make your transition a little easier.

Forget pace

While you may rely on pace to measure progress on the roads, when you hit the trails, it’s best to just set out with the intention of finishing a particular route, or being on the trail for a certain amount of time. The fluctuating terrain will require you to slow down and even stop at some points in order to stay safe. Most experienced trail runners walk up steep inclines.

Unplug and tune in to the trail

If you’re accustomed to zoning out when you hit the road for workouts, be aware that trail running provides a completely different experience. With rocks, roots, and undulating terrain, it’s critical to focus on the trail four feet ahead of you in order to avoid a fall. It’s a good idea to go without earbuds especially on a new trail, so that you can tune into the sounds around you—the footsteps of runners and cyclists ahead or behind you, the sound of thunder, rain or other weather conditions.

Watch your form

On the uneven surfaces of the trails you won’t be able to maintain the same running form that you hold on the roads. On steep uphills, run tall—avoid bending over at the hips and dropping your head, says Lisa Jhung, author of Trail Heads: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running. Take short steps, drive with your arms, and don’t hesitate to walk if you need to. You might find that stretching out your stride will help relieve tight muscles.

Get strong

Navigating varied terrain of the trails requires balance and strength that isn’t demanded on the road. That makes strength-training particularly important. Incorporating exercises like lunges, one- legged squats, and planks into your workout routine can help you avoid injury and be better prepared for the challenges on the trail.

Expect to be sore

When you’re on the trails, you’re going to be working different muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints than you do on the roads. That could leave you with some muscle aches you’re not accustomed to, especially in the upper body. Increase your time on the trails gradually, just as you do on the roads, to give your body time to adjust.

Plan for pit stops

When nature calls, get as far as you can from the trail to avoid embarrassing encounters with other hikers, runners, cyclists, who are using the trail. “Hide behind a tree, a bunch of bushes or large rock to do your thing,” says Jhung. If you're peeing, step off the trail far enough that your pee won't be seen, smelled or otherwise infiltrate any other trail users' experience. If you need to poop, which generally takes longer, make sure you're well hidden and far off trail, Jhung says. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics recommends that you step 200 feet off the trail and away from any water source. Be sure to step on dry grass, rocks or gravel instead of more fragile flora like broadleaf plants, moss or flowers, Jhung says. Be sure to relieve yourself on a soft surface, says Jhung. After all,pee on rock splatters! Use a stick or sharp rock to dig a hole that is six to eight inches deep. Consider wiping with a flat rock or a smooth leaf and bury your business very very well, says Jhung. Before you go, make sure you know how to identify poison oak, poison ivy and stinging nettles look like, and do not squat on or wipe with any of them.

About Jen Van Allen

Jen has spent the past six years working as Special Projects Editor for Runner's World magazine, and writing stories for the magazine. She also has a book, The Runner's World Training Journal for Beginners, and contributes stories to The Portland Press Herald.

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