Trail Running For Beginners: All You Need To Know

Trail Running For Beginners: All You Need To Know

If you are looking for a simple trail running for beginners guide, you have come to the right place.

I’ll have a look at the why’s, the what’s, and the how’s to allow you to start fully enjoying the delights of trail running.

Before you continue, I wanted to let you know I will potentially make a small commission from any purchases you make via the links on this page, it helps pay for the upkeep of the site amongst other things.

Are you ready? Well let’s go!

So firstly, why should you bother even considering going ‘off piste’.

After all, you’ll be presented with mud, stingers, and even the odd cow!

Trail Running For Beginners: All You Need To Know
Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

Well, all that pales into insignificance when you get presented with what nature has for you.

Fresh air.

Peace and quiet.

Beauty.

Indeed the issues I mentioned actually become an attraction of running off-road.

(OK, maybe with the exception of the stingers! 🙂 )

It takes you back to the most basic of pleasures.

Something we have been doing since the days we had to run through the woods and the fields hunting down our food.

And of course, who doesn’t like getting just a little bit muddy from time to time.

OK, those are the more ‘esoteric’ reasons for starting to trail run, but there are also a number of more practical down to earth reasons.

So what can running off road provide that running on the tarmac doesn’t?

Advantages of Trail Running

1. Injury Prevention

Due to the soft, uneven surface that trail running provides you with, the chance of overuse injuries become far less likely.

In addition, the same uneven ground will gradually strengthen both your core strength and your ankles.

2. Increased Pace

Most of us know that running uphill will help with our speed, and guess what, trail running is full of inclines both big and small.

3. Increased Endurance

As trail running surfaces are variable, you will be working harder than you would on road. This translates to more work in less time ensuring you build your endurance more quickly as your body adapts to the extra workload.

4. Burn Extra Calories

Again as you are working harder on your runs, you will in turn burn more calories in the same amount of time. The higher intensity of running cross country will soon have a positive impact on your waistline.

5. Improve Technique

Your trail running will also assist with your road-based running.

The undulating trail tracks will force you to take shorter strides to ensure you don’t come a cropper.

The shorter strides will have you landing more on your midfoot, rather than your heel. This midfoot strike provides the most effective and efficient running style and will enable you to be a generally better runner.

The uneven terrain of the trails will require you to take shorter strides.

So yes, there are many advantages to trail running, both mental and physical.

Preparing For Your First Trail Run

1. Find Kindred Spirits

A great to take away some of the worries about setting off on your first trail run, is to buddy up with people who are already doing it.

There are loads of running clubs out there for all sorts of standards and you don’t have to be the next Paula Radcliffe or Mo Farrah to join a club.

Wherever you are in the UK, you will be able to find a club near you via the UK Athletics Club Search

2. Find a Route

Again, joining a club with seasoned trail runners will greatly help with this task.

Alternatively, with some local knowledge and a little help from Google Maps or a route tracker…

(There are a number of these, but I tend to use PlotaRoute.com)

…it is pretty easy to map out a route to get you going in the short term.

To start off with though, choose something close to home and fairly short so that you can safely try it out.

If you like the idea of other people coming up with the best trails for you to run, you might want to check out Jen and Sim Benson’s ‘Wild Running: Britain’s 200 Greatest Trail Runs’

3. It’s Not A Time For PB’s

If you are used to road running, be prepared to go slower on more energy sapping trail routes.

It has been calculated that you will be around 20% slower on your trail run.  There will also be stops ,  delays and detours – so just accept it.

4. Adapt Your Style

Make sure you shorten your stride to ensure your weight is above your feet most of the time to create maximum stability as you run over the uneven ground.

This will probably happen naturally anyway, but don’t fight it if it does.

Also you will find it is also a good idea to pick your feet up that little more than you would on the road, to avoid tripping over roots and stones etc.

5. Be Vigilant

There is more to be aware of when running off road, so you should be constantly scanning around 2 to 3 meters (or 5 to 10 feet in old money) ahead of you.

This will allow you to spot the potential hazards and make sure your run doesn’t leave you with muddied (or worse) knees.

6. Slippery When Wet

It is amazing just how slippery surfaces (rocks and roots etc) become when they are wet (and let’s face it, if you live in the UK, surfaces are going to be wet most of the time!).  So just be careful when you have wet surfaces underfoot.

7. Keep In Contact

Even if you have selected a fairly easy local trail, it is a good idea to always let someone know the route you are running.

In addition to this take your mobile phone along with you (there are plenty of waterproof holders to keep it dry and safe).  As much as always being in contact can be a negative in the modern world, it is a real bonus when you are running.

8. What’s the Time Mr Wolf

Keep an eye on the time, especially in the shorter autumn and winter days.  Also remember that your pace when out trail running is going to be slower than your on-road efforts, so make sure you account for that in your timings.

The last thing you want to be doing is to make your way around rough, unknown terrain in the pitch black.

As you can see the vast majority of what I’ve written above is just common sense, so there should be nothing there to frighten you off the idea of starting your trail running adventure.

What Equipment Should A Trail Running Beginner Have

With trail running, it is fair to say that you should consider more carefully what you will get you round the route in the best way.

As always, you can really go overboard if you want, but to start off with there are some basics that you should seriously consider before you start your first trail run.

Here are some of those basics:

Clothing

On the clothing you wear on a trail run will be more or less the same as for your road running. 

You should just consider though that there is more opportunity for the clothing to get dirty or even be snagged on bushes, fences, etc.

Foot Wear

As tempting as it is to just use your road running shoes, this is not really a good idea.

There is very little or no grip on the sole of your running shoes, as it is just not required when on the tarmac.  This means if you take these shoes cross country, you will be like Bambi on ice.

In addition, as the road going shoes are not made for the rigours of trail running, you may quickly find them suffering the consequences.

So it is a good idea to invest in a pair of the best trail running shoes your budget will allow.

If you are looking for the best budget trail running shoes, check out my suggestions/reviews.

Water

Keeping hydrated is always a good idea, and if you are out in the wilds it is sensible to take some water with you.

This could be a hand held version, one housed in a waist belt, or, if you plan for longer runs, a hydration backpack is a good idea.  The big name when it comes to hydration backpacks is Camelbak .

Insect Repellent

Depending on what time of year you are planning your run, and where you are planning it, something to ward off nasty insects could be a good idea.

(Especially if you are someone like me; somewhat of an insect delicacy!)

A Change of Clothes

Due to the natue of trail running there is a good chance you might get wet and /or dirty during your run.  Therefore, it is a good idea to take with you a change of clothing and a towel for after the run.

This is especially the case if you have driven to the run in your car.  The extra clothing will help you stay warm and you are not going to have to spend hours washing and drying the inside of your car. 

So there you go, trail running for beginners.  Hopefully, I have persuaded you it is something worth trying.  Now get out there and get pounding those trails 😊

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