Guest Post: Trail Running 101

The other day, while we were at work, Jordan sent me a screenshot of the song he was listening to. It was called “Whiskey and Sunshine.” I hope that right now, we’re enjoying one or both of these things. 

In the meantime, the awesome Logan from Mountains and Miles agreed to guest post for me! I love reading Logan’s blog and living vicariously through all her awesome trail runs, races, hikes, and trips. If you don’t already follow her, you should. I asked Logan to write a post for newbie trail runners like me, and her advice here is golden. Be warned, though: it will make you want to stop what you’re doing and find a trail RIGHT NOW. 

Trail Running 101

 Hi! I’m Logan and I blog over at Mountains and Miles where I talk about running, hiking, my dogs and training for trail ultramarathons. I’m a Colorado native who found herself in hustle and bustle of DC.  While I love living in a city, I’m a mountain girl at heart, and need my nature fix to stay sane. Trail running is one of my absolute favorite activities to reset my mind and get in a great workout all at once. Since I recently convinced Cassie to do an overnight trail race with me, I thought I would share a Trail Running 101 guide with her and all of you!

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So first things first – why should you run trails?

1. Better for your body

Trails are softer than concrete, and easier on your knees and legs. Additionally, since trails come with all kinds of obstacles, including rocks, roots, and hills, they help build core strength, agility and balance.

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2. Training benefits

Even though you’re likely to run much slower on trails than on pavement, trails can do wonders for your road race training. Trails have more frequent and steeper hills than roads, which gives you all the benefits of hill repeats, strengthening your legs to go faster on the flats. Plus, all those rocks and roots you have to navigate around help work different muscles, making you a stronger runner overall.

3. Mental recharge

Trails have a different feeling to them. When surrounded by trees, rivers, or mountains, running becomes less about running and more about freedom. On trails, you often have the whole thing to yourself and you leave the roads, people, and all your problems behind. More than just the feeling you get from a hard workout, I always find that running trails recharges my spirits as well.

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4. Adventure

Sometimes our lives can become the same old routine day after day. The same breakfast, the same work, the same running routes. When I feel like I am stuck in a rut, I find a new trail I’ve never run before and lace up! There’s nothing like exploring a new trail for the first time – every turn and hill become an exciting new mystery, as you never know what you’re going to find next!

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So now that I’ve hopefully convinced you on why you should run trails, let’s talk about how to run trails!

1. Find a great trail

The options for finding new trails are endless. Usually I start on Google maps and look for the big green spots.  National and state parks, forests, and recreation areas usually all have hiking/running trails and high quality maps as well. Other ways to find new trails are to get in touch with a local trail running group, where you can get suggestions or join a group run for your first time on the trail, or search local hiking forums like

2. Plan ahead

Trails take a bit more planning than regular road running. Some trails can leave you miles away from the closest or person if something goes wrong. When running a new trail, I usually bring a friend along (ideally one that knows the route), and I carry my phone along on every trail run I do in case I need to call for help. If you’re running in an area that doesn’t get cell service, make sure you let someone know what route you are planning on running and approximately when you should be back. It’s also good to keep in mind that trails hold the extra factor of wildlife – make sure you know what animals are in your area and how to react if you come across any. Also remember that plants can cause just as much trouble as animals – cacti and poison ivy can ruin any perfectly good run.

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3. Go slow (and don’t be afraid to hike)

Trails will slow you down significantly. Plan on going anywhere from 1-4 minutes per mile slower than your road pace, depending on trail conditions. In fact, when getting into trail running, it might be best to run based on time rather than mileage until you have a better idea of your trail pace. Also, since trails generally have much steeper hills than road runners are used to, don’t be afraid to hike.  In fact, it’s often more energy efficient to hike up steep hills and doesn’t burn as much time as you think!

4. Lift your feet, pay attention, and learn to tuck and roll

Remember all those obstacles that are going to make you a stronger runner?  Well, they can also make you fall flat on your face if you don’t pay attention and pick up your feet.  When I started trail running, I fell on almost every single run I did. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at foot placement. And when I do make a mistake? Well, I’ve mastered the tuck and roll approach to falling. Plus, cuts, blood and bruises just make you look tougher!

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5. Bring water and fuel

Since trail running will likely take you much longer than the same distance on roads, and the extra hills and agility work will use up more of your energy stores, be sure to bring fuel extra fuel with you. Also, since you won’t be running by shops and water fountains, make sure to bring all the water you need with you as well. I use a hydration pack, but handheld water bottles and belts also work great.

6. Embrace the dirt

At almost every trail race I do, there are individuals who have never done a trail run before. When they get to the first creek crossing or muddy patch, they tiptoe around the edges or gingerly cross the water, making sure their shoes stay pristine. Those of us who have been around before know that no matter how hard you try, you’re going to get dirty and muddy and wet – so embrace it!

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7. Enjoy the views

The best part of trail running is all of the incredible views, so don’t forget to look up from time to time and enjoy them =).

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Do you ever run trails?  If so, what tips can you add?  If not, what’s holding you back?

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Trail Running 101”

  1. I love trails 🙂 I used to not like them because I felt like I had to concentrate too much while running on them. I don’t know what flipped the switch in my mind but I have really enjoyed trail running/racing the past several years. I love the gorgeous views.

  2. Great content!

    And do you know the difference between trail running, sky, cross-country, mountain run? 🙂

    You can also add to clause 7 that during training sessions athlete enjoys solitude with nature!

    And here are some additional tips for trail running beginners
    Use common sense, start out slow and build up your progress over time.

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