Trail running is my absolute favorite past time. When I run on the street, I ache and complain and check my watch over and over to see how much longer I have left. On the trails, it’s completely different. I find that I smile the entire time I am running, I prance along the down hills, and feel at peace.
Several people have recently asked me how to start running trails. The easiest answer? Start running trails. But, all joking aside, it can be a daunting task to transition from road running to trail running. Here are some tips to help get your feet in the dirt:
Find a group to trail run with. Here in Arizona we are especially lucky as there are several trail running groups and no shortage of awesome trails. Look online and find a trail running meetup group in your area. Locally, Aravaipa Running, AZ Track N Trail are both excellent groups to join. Can’t find any trail specific groups in your area? Join a local running group or club, and find some other runners who already love the trails or are looking to start. I have found amazing friends in my local Moms Run This Town running group.
Learn the trails. Many trail maps can be found online. Be sure you are familiar with the route and markers before attempting any sort of solo trail run. Walking/hiking a trail before running can be helpful in a lot of instances. While it is not advisable to trail run alone, if you do decide to do so, make sure you have a safety plan in place in case you need assistance. And, ALWAYS make sure someone knows where you are going and when you should be back.
Get trail shoes. Just like road running, it is important to have the proper shoes for running on trails. Some trails are especially rocky or slippery, and for those situations, you will definitely be glad you made the investment in a sturdy pair of trail shoes. I personally wear Altra Olympus trail shoes, which have a bonus built in gaiter trap (Velcro fastening to hold a gaiter on your shoe- a fabric ankle covering that help keep rocks and dirt out of your shoe).
Gaiters. While gaiters are most certainly not needed to start trail running, they can be a life saver when running in loose dirt, sand, and areas with small rocks. I love the Dirty Girl Gaiters, as they have a ton of personality and work well. In fact, I ran a race through Monument Valley this past weekend, and did not have to stop to empty my shoes even once.
Start slow, short and easy. Find some nice, rolling trails to start with. Go out for just a mile or two and get the lay of the land. Don’t worry about speed, but instead focus on the trail and look for the best landing places for your feet. Don’t forget to pick up your feet!
Trust your instincts. Don’t overthink your gait, posture, or positioning. Remember that humans are designed to run, just like other animals are. With a little bit of trust in yourself, you can develop a natural run on trails.
You might see animals. Yes, you will most likely see animals at some point when trail running. Be safe, and know what to do if you see certain animals. Most will try to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them, but it is always smart to be aware of local wildlife and precautions you can take if you have an encounter of the close kind.
The biggest thing to remember is that you have to start somewhere. Every trail runner had to start by taking those first trail runs and figuring it all out. Don’t expect to run your road pace on a trail. In fact, you should expect to run considerably slower, and that’s okay! It is important to be safe, watch for others on the trail, and be able to hear things around you. Don’t be intimidated. It’s not any harder than road running, it’s just different.