Tips for Getting into Trail Running

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

Trail running is a passion that I have developed over the last 5 years. Prior to hitting the trails, I pretty much only ran when playing and training for sports. After the competitive sports era of my life ended, I stumbled across trail running. Previously I believed that trails were basically for hiking, camping, and mountain biking. It did not take long for me to fall in love with trail running even though I loathed road and treadmill running. I found the scenery, pace, and adventure so much more rewarding and enjoyable and so I kept getting more and more into it. So whether you are just looking for a way to get some peace and exercise out of the city or are looking to train for ultramarathons, here is your guide to getting into trail running.


Running Le Grizz 50 Miler outside of Glacier National Park


Pace, Pace, Pace

My number one piece of advice for anyone beginning trail running is to adjust your pace expectations for your runs. Many people who first venture onto the trails will compare their pace and times to what they were running previously on sidewalks and treadmills. Trail running is really a different beast. Adjust your expectations and be ok with slower times, especially when starting out. Nothing will discourage you or make you miserable faster than pushing at too fast of a pace on the trails. A good rule of thumb is to start out at a pace that seems overly easy where you can maintain almost normal breathing. Obviously you can increase your pace as you get adjusted, but start slow. If you need to walk an uphill to keep your breathing steady, walk the uphill. One of my favorite parts of trail running is that it is all about me and I don't need to feel ashamed to walk the uphill. Some days I'm feeling great and I fly through the trails, other days each hill feels like a mountain. Run at the pace your body is telling you to go and don't be afraid to slow down. The slower pace (which increases with experience and training) and the easier breathing really helps me enjoy the running rather than just enduring it for fitness' sake.


Beautiful views from a trail near my home


Foot Placement and Ankle Strength

One of the most common issues people have transitioning to trail running is avoiding ankle injuries. It is very different running on uneven, loose, or slick ground and you need to build up ankle strength and flexibility. This is one more reason to start with a good pace and to start with shorter distances. Do ankle workouts outside of running (there are plenty of these on the internet) to build your strength, balance, and flexibility. By building up your trail mileage slowly, you'll naturally adjust your ankles to the variable world of trail running. If you do roll/sprain your ankle while running, make sure you rehab it in addition to waiting for it to heal. If you injure the ankle and don't actively re-strengthen it you run a higher risk of future injuries to it. Focusing on running form and foot placement is also a huge part of trail running. Take smaller steps that allow you to run on the front half of your feet rather than long strides coming down on your heel (plus its just better running form). Actively evaluate where you are placing your feet and where the best/safest places to land are. This is especially true in rocky or loose terrain. Shoes can also make a huge difference which leads us to...


Running Mount Timpanogos with my friend Trevor


Pick the Right Shoes!

I'm not one who over emphasizes gear in outdoor sports, but dedicated trail running shoes are worth the cost. Go to any running store and compare trail shoes and road shoes and you'll see a lot of obvious differences. The extra traction, support, and durability of trail shoes is worth it. Everyone has different preferences in shoes, but find what you like by trying on a lot of them. I prefer zero drop shoes with less underfoot padding where I can "feel" the ground under my feet. I also prefer shoes that have some space in the toe box. Because of this I currently prefer Altra shoes (www.altrarunning.com) and I am currently using their Kings shoes. With that being said, I have also ran with other brands such as Salomon and Brooks and have liked some of their shoes. Some people prefer more comfort and padding and swear by Hokas. There are shoes for every type of runner and so do your research and talk to the people at your local running shop for guidance. The right shoes make a huge difference in your experience.


Running the Crimson Canyons 50k in Richfield, Utah


Be Prepared

Trail running will get you into nature more and there are a lot of benefits to it. However, whenever we are in nature we need to be prepared. Carry some food and water with you (Salomon and Black Diamond make some great hydration vests), know the trails you are going on, and make sure people know where you are going. It seems like every year here in Utah we have one or two people who go trail running and end up dying because of weather, falls, or getting lost. Oftentimes they aren't found for days, weeks, or even months because others don't know where they are going. One of the best ways to mitigate this is to go with other people. Though trail running currently seems to be a largely solo activity, outdoorpals is looking to help runners connect so that we can run together more.


Some great views on the Deer Creek trail


Running is one of the healthiest things we can do and it will benefit you in numerous ways. But if it wasn't for trail running, you would not be able to get me out regularly running just about any other way! So if you're interested in trail running, follow the above tips and give it a shot. Use outdoorpals to help you find other people who run, many of which can help mentor you into the sport. Follow us on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/getoutdoorpals/) to stay up to date on the app's progress. Hope to see you out there!