Trail Running Tips for Beginners

Trail Running Tips for Beginners _

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”  – John Muir

If you have been a reader for some time, you know that over the past few years, trail running has made an imprint on my running heart. Running is running and I’ll always love all forms of it but there’s just something about trail running that makes me extra happy.

I’m guessing it has something to do with feeling like a kid again, running through the woods, getting muddy/dirty, feeling the wind on my face and no other sounds other than birds singing or a river flowing.

And my heavy breathing.

I still do the majority of my running on the roads because it’s the most convenient.  Running on the trails in the winter in the dark and early mornings when there’s nothing but ice is just asking for a broken wrist or shoulder. I make some dumb decisions but I’m not that stupid. Most weeks I’d like to get at least one run on the local trails.  And as the weather warms up (and the trails become a mud pit), I’ll try to do at least two a week.

As I’ve transitioned from the roads to the trails, one thing I’ve found is that a lot of people are afraid of going off road.  Number one concern is falling.  Yup.  You will trip and fall in trail running.  It happens to everyone.  There’s also the worry of getting lost or being afraid of what’s in the woods (ax murderers and wild animals).

Those are legitimate concerns but honestly, all of those things can happen on the road too. Right?

Trail Running Tips for Beginners |

OK, maybe you wouldn’t see this thing on the road unless it was dead. :)

Benefits of trail running

  • A softer surface often feels better on the joints.  It also can aid in recovery after a hard workout.
  • Trail running very rarely goes in one straight line.  There’s turns, hills, side stepping over rocks or roots.  These changes in direction move the body in different planes (rather than just forward with road running) which create a more balanced runner.
  • Trail running terrain varies so much so you are less likely to develop a repetitive stress injury.

I am by no means an expert trail runner.  I’ve still got a lot to learn but I’ve picked up some tips along the way that really helped me in the transition from road to trail.

Forget about pace

There’s some ridiculously fast trail runners out there.  It’s like they glide over rocks and roots.  I am not one of those people.  You will run slower on trails than on the road, especially as a beginner.  It takes time to build up your speed.  Base your runs on how you feel rather than what your pace is. Going for time rather than mileage is also a good place to start.  If it takes you 45 minutes to run 5 miles on the road, aim to run for 45 minutes on the trail.  You may not make it to 5 miles but the effort will probably be the same.

Trail Running tips for Beginners |

Pay Attention to the Trail

It’s very tempting to look around at all the beauty that’s around you while on the trails but once you do, you’ll probably end up doing a face plant. Look down at the ground and a few feet in front of you to pick your path of direction. And be sure to pick your feet up.  No shuffling!  If you do, you’ll be face planting non stop.

Use your Arms

Of course we use our arms in road running but even more so in trail running. By keeping your arms out a little wider, it will help with balance as you change direction or if you need to hop over something.

Trail Running Tips for Beginners |

Power Hike the Hills

Here’s a little secret: Not everyone runs continuously in trail running.  There’s usually a fair amount of power hiking up hills.  It’s more efficient and a good way to conserve energy for what lies ahead on the trail.  Power hike the hills and run the downhills and flats.


Having specific trail running shoes aren’t really necessary if you are only hoping on the trail every so often. Regular road shoes should be fine unless you are running on real technical terrain. Trail running shoes do have an advantage for having more grip (I like big lugs and I can not lie!) on slippery surfaces, have a lower profile to hopefully help reduce ankle rolling, and are generally made to withstand more mud, dirt, and water than road shoes.

Trail running tips for beginners |

Be Smart

There’s precautions to take in trail running just like in road running. Tell someone where you are running and when you plan on returning.  Bring a map with you if you don’t know the trails. Carry your cell phone, mace/bear spray and/or an emergency whistle just in case.  Find out if it’s hunting season.  If it is, wear Hunter Orange to be seen!  Carry extra water/food and a jacket with you if you are going really off road. The odds of something happen are slim but it’s better to be prepared.

Whatever you do, have fun!  There’s bound to be a trail system near you no matter where you live from urban to rural. Give it a try and maybe you’ll be a believer in the saying, “The road to hell is PAVED!”

Linking up with Coaches’ Cornerand Wild Workout Wednesday.

Which do you prefer – road or trail?

What’s your biggest fear about trail running?

22 comments on “Trail Running Tips for Beginners

  1. I really should try running trails more this summer! We have one big trail but its almost 30 minutes away, so its kind of a production to get out there. But its pretty flat and wide and there are usually plenty of other runners out there.

    1. It sucks that almost all women have the fear of running alone on the trails. The first time I went out by myself I was totally on edge. But I think you have to be to always be aware of your surroundings just like on the road. And I am very lucky to have lady and guy friends who are Trail fans.

  2. We don’t have much in the way of trails around here–even the ones I run on are wide and covered with limestone. I know I’d love trail running–I grew up in the country and I love the chance to be outside!

    1. Oh no! It is hard to find the groove after a hard fall. I rolled my ankle really bad once and it took some time for me to get out there again without fear.

  3. I started “seriously” trail running last year. I wouldn’t really call it serious, but I ran my first trail half & another trail race (although I treated it as a recovery run).

    I’m not sure I’ve really fallen in love with it yet, but I do like mixing it up with trails. I think part of it is that I haven’t really found a trail close enough to me yet that I really enjoy. Maybe this will be the year!

    The tip on holding your arms out wider helped me a lot in the beginning. I also think that a lot of people won’t trail run because they have to swallow their ego & run slower. But since I’m slow to start, I guess that wasn’t as hard on me, LOL!
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    1. The slower part is hard! Especially when you are used to seeing a pace that’s 1-3 minutes faster on the roads. But I actually like the slower part!

    1. Maybe give it a try with regular shoes and if you feel unstable and you like the trails, pick up some trail specific shoes. I love the Saucony Peregrine!

  4. I’m terrified of trail running because I feel like I will fall 100 times, lol. Thanks so much for the great tips that you shared. I might try to run a mile on the trails and then work my way up from there, lol

    1. Thankfully that has been the only huge snake I’ve seen on the trail. Usually all critters run away once they hear me coming. I love taking Cooper on the trails with me. It’s the only time I can run with him. He loathes the road!

  5. Thanks for the tips that you shared!. My biggest concern is running to one of the those snakes. Honestly, that is one of the things that I don’t like running outside my house.

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