Have you been wanting to get into running but haven’t found an enjoyable way to make it your “thing?” Or maybe you are getting bored of your standard neighborhood run and want to spice it up? If so, it may be time to give trail running a try! Trail running provides the opportunity to get outside, explore new areas, and receive all the physical benefits of running - plus the added benefit of immersing yourself on a trail!
The idea of trail running can sound intimidating, but with guidance and resources can be very approachable. So, we’ve rounded up recommendations, methods, and safety tips to help you hit the trail. This guide for beginners covers everything you need to know about getting started with trail running!
What Is Trail Running?
Trail running is an endurance sport that involves long-distance running and hiking on trails. It is similar to road running, except it takes place on natural terrains, such as desert, woodland, or hilly locations, rather than paved roads.
Trail running provides freedom from the distractions of the streets, and the opportunity to move and strengthen your body while being engulfed in nature.
Why Start Trail Running
Trail running is beneficial to both the mind and the body. While some terrain will test your physical condition, you'll be surrounded by nature's peaceful splendor, providing the perfect space for meditative movement. There are numerous benefits to this sport, but here are a few we love!
Benefits of trail running:
1. Improves cardiovascular health
When you run you are working more than just your leg muscles - you are working your heart muscles as well! With each stride, your heart pumps blood to aid sustain your workout, strengthening itself over time. The added bonus of trail running is there are often hills to add an extra challenge and workout to your cardiovascular system. Depending on your route, you are also likely to be huffing cleaner air than city running.
2. Improves muscular strength and balance
Beyond just added resistance with incline, uneven terrain strengthens, stretches, and balances the ankles, knees, and supporting muscles that aren’t always activated on flatter surfaces. The requirement to change stride length in order to avoid roots and rocks also enhances agility and coordination.
3. Supports mental health
Trail running takes you to places that are removed from the bustle of everyday life. The peace and quiet calm the mind and may help reduce stress and anxiety. It also provides the opportunity for a clearer headspace so you can return home refreshed and renewed.
4. You get a brain workout too!
The benefits of trail running for your brain goes beyond just mental health. Complex exercises with a high cognitive demand improve participants' perception, working memory capacity, and spatial awareness. In other words, simply running on a trail causes your brain to operate quicker and recall more!.
5. Burns more calories
There are a few reasons why trail running burns more calories than road running; first, the uneven and unpredictable terrain forces your body to work harder to maintain equilibrium. Second, trail runs tend to have more incline than road routes, which puts increased demand on large (and small!) muscle groups, which require more energy and in turn burns more calories.
Trail running is a relatively simple (albeit, not easy!) activity with few gear requirements. Here are 8 simple tips for beginners and first-time trail runners for getting started.
1. Use running apps to find a trail
Discovering new trails is one of the most exciting aspects of trail running for many. However, it can be hard to know where to start and what trails are approachable for beginners or more suited for advanced runners. Luckily, there have been a number of websites and apps developed to solve this problem! Here are a few to start with:
Keep in mind that trail running often takes longer than road running for a comparable distance. The harder terrain and undulating paths will slow your pace and activate muscles you aren't used to working, so start slowly, and remember, it’s always okay to slow it down and walk for a while!
Other great ways to find suitable trails are by looking into city or state parks in your neighborhood. Many runners also adopt the sport by finding local trail running communities. Many cities have Facebook groups, Meetups, groups organized by local gyms, and other great resources to connect with other runners who can share knowledge, and encourage you along the way.
2. Invest in a good pair of trail running shoes
For trail runners, the most important piece of equipment is their shoes. Trail running shoes are often more robust than road running shoes, with an emphasis on traction, foot protection, and stability. Consider the contrast between the tires on a mountain bike and those on a road bike. Within the trail-running category, you'll find shoes suitable for everything from easy, groomed trails to tricky, changeable terrain.
Trail-running shoes fall within three broad categories:
· Light: Light trail shoes are intended for use on relatively flat terrain, such as fire roads, gravel walks, and rolling hills. These shoes will be the most similar in weight and construction to road-running shoes.
· Rugged: Rugged trail shoes are primarily intended for use on hiking paths suitable for a wide range of terrain, from steep dirt trails to wet and marshy areas.
· Off-trail: Off-trail shoes are for you if you intend to run over rocky and extremely variable terrain
3. Dress appropriately
For best long-term comfort, your running clothes should be made of moisture-wicking merino wool or synthetics rather than cotton, which dries slowly. Socks should also be made of merino wool or a synthetic material. A lightweight rain shell or windbreaker is recommended for cool or wet weather.
Of course, dressing in layers is a good idea, especially for longer runs. Lightweight knit fabrics work nicely, and shirts with zippered necklines allow you to breathe.
4. Gear up
Because trail running is often longer and on more challenging terrain than road running, there are a few pieces of gear that will help support the longevity of the activity. Here are a few things to think about:
· Smartphone with a map, or GPS watch
· Belt or vest with small attached water bottles
· Fanny pack with mini first-aid kit and energy gels or other snacks
5. Plan ahead and stay safe
As with any trail adventure, there are several precautions that are always good to take. A few rules of thumb we recommend are:
1. Fuel your body. If you're going to be out on the trails for more than an hour, eat something before you head out. Then, be sure to bring water, a source of calories, and anything you might need to keep your body comfortable over changing elevation, temperature, and weather. Gels, bars, or other quick energy snacks can be a great choice on the trail.
2. Tell someone about your trip plans. Share your itinerary with someone who is trustworthy, responsive, and preferably knowledgeable with the area. Information to include is: your trip start and end time, location, route, time and manner you'll notify your emergency contact that you're safe, and the time your emergency contact should notify authorities that you're a no-show/missing. It is also important to provide local emergency contact information.
6. Train for The Terrain
Too much of any single activity can lead to overuse injuries. Especially when starting out, replace some of your runs with the exercises listed below to improve your strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility.
Resistance training: Whether it's weight lifting or old-school exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, and planks, anything that strengthens your core and legs is beneficial on the trail, where balance is essential. Strength workouts can also aid with endurance and help increase your mileage in a way that is safe for your body.
Yoga: Support your running by incorporating yoga into your weekly workout routine to improve your balance, flexibility, and body awareness. Athletes often disregard the importance of these elements in their overall performance, but they are in fact essential for a healthy, injury-free workout routine.
Stretching: Hills, switchbacks, and rapid changes in stride are great for strengthening muscles, but will also lead to tightening and stiffness of the same muscles you are strengthening. It is critical to increase time spent stretching as you increase intensity in your workouts. More work means more recovery!
7. Hone Your Trail-Running Technique
Rocks, logs, and roots are common stumbling blocks on the trail. Working on your technique can assist you in navigating this type of terrain.
Trail running fundamentals:
· Use a short stride to maintain your balance over uneven terrain by always keeping your feet underneath you. Shorten your stride as the terrain steepens and take modest, frequent steps to maintain your cadence.
· Keep your eyes down and check the trail for obstacles 10 to 15 feet ahead of you. Try not to fix your gaze on your feet.
· Loosen your arms. This allows you to relax your core while maintaining your balance.
· Maintain a straight back. On hills, resist the urge to lean forward, as this can impair your ability to breathe correctly. Keep your shoulders up and back and focus on an upright posture.
· Avoid leaning back on downhills since this can strain your body and lead to injury.
8. Take it slow and have fun!
Trail running is not only a great type of fitness, but it is also a great way to spend time outside. You don't have to go on the trails for the sake of "training" or competing; you can simply enjoy moving your body in nature! And remember, it is always okay to walk sections of the trail as needed or desired.
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