Are you still out there running on the side walks of your neighbourhood? Ever look off into the distance and wonder what else is out there? Maybe you go for walks in trails with your dog or family… do you ever see people running through those trails with crazy looking shoes, hydration packs and think about running trail running?
Trying something new can be intimidating especially when it seems hard and out of reach. Fear not! I am going to take you step by step on how to take that next step to trying something new and to begin trail running.
The Pro’s of trail running
- See and go places you never would have gone before
- Trails offer a softer surface then pavement (helpful to joint or other injuries)
- It will make you stronger (climbing, quick feet, hills, bends, ups and downs)
- Trails provide an undeniable escape from what can be an otherwise hectic day
- You will become more alert, maneuvering through the terrain
- Make new friends
- A lot of new race options
- No need to run to find a port-a-potty
- Fresh Air
- A change in scenery with every run
- Mother Nature has awesome rest areas
- Great for running with dogs
- No cars, horns, traffic
The Con’s of trail running (what’s tough)
- It can take time for your body to adjust
- Have to always be alert to your surroundings and the terrain
- Terrain can be unpredictable
- There is usually a lot of climbing or hills
- Majority of trails are not flat it can be hard to keep a consistent pace
- Its nature there are wild animals
- If your not aware and or careful it can be easy to roll an ankle or hurt yourself
- 1km or 1 mile can seem really far compared to the road
- You could get lost if not paying attention to markers
Don’t be afraid to try something new:
Before you start, don’t compare yourself to other runners or look at how far or fast people are running trails. Don’t look at other runners out there dressed head to toe in their flashy gear and think that you are any less capable. Like with any new thing, you start off simple. Just like when you first started running, you will start slower and with shorter distances… easy on yourself! You will need to find a trail near where you live but keep in mind you might have to sacrifice the convenience of putting your shoes on and stepping out your front door for a run. You will most likely have to drive to a trail (unless you are one of those really lucky people who live in the forest or near a mountain). The best way to find running routes however, is to either talk to locals, search trails in your area on google or even head in to your local outdoor or running store. The places that trail running can take you is pretty incredible… get ready to open up a whole new world!!
Forget about time and pace:
From what I understand about road running, a lot of it has to do with time, pace and splits. On the trail you have to just let that go, especially if you are running trails with a lot of hills or trails that are really technical. On the road it is much easier to pick a pace and stick to it consistently but the trail is dynamic, always changing and it can be next to impossible to maintain your goal pace. An hour road run you might be able to go 10 or 12km but on the trail you might be able to go 6-8km. It is okay!! Distance doesn’t always matter, often times it is about time on your feet. In fact, good training plans geared towards trail running will never have distance on them and will instead say time on feet. So let go of your negative splits and just enjoy the ride.
Don’t get frustrated:
You might find the transition from road running to trail running to be quite difficult and frustrating, I know I did as I recall my first technical trail run. I had started out running a local trail that was very nontechnical, a wide light gravel path that was mostly flat therefore, my road running shoes worked perfectly fine and I was able to keep up my usual pace. It wasn’t until my first real ‘technical’ trail run that I realized this was a whole different ball game. I was slow and sloppy and just couldn’t keep up with the group. Keep in mind that trails have rocks and roots and go up and down and there are creeks and rivers. I used to get so frustrated because all I wanted to do was run and to me running didn’t include big climbs and having to keep my eyes on the ground watching the placement of my feet between rocks and roots. Climbing up a mountain was not running to me. I wasn’t able to zone out, get in my rhythm and just go, turn my brain off. It felt like I was working so hard and I couldn’t reach my running pace. I actually hated it for quite sometime. Don’t give up. It’s a big change for you mind and body. You might find that you are more sore in areas you are not normally sore in, or that you are just more sore in general. This is totally expected! Trail running uses a lot of different muscles, especially your smaller stabilizer ones, even into your core.. so expect to feel things you haven’t felt before!
Get the gear:
Gps: Generally speaking, trail gear is different than road gear and you might want to think about investing in it before things get serious!! A good GPS system is key for tracking your elevation, time, pace and route. It is also a good idea to have something with you that can help you locate yourself when on the trails. As you continue on your trail running journey you might find yourself going deeper into the back country and a GPS is always a good idea!
Shoes: You will also need to upgrade your shoes… especially if you are going to tackle the technical trails! Try and pick something with a more aggressive tread and good stability. For example my first pair of trail shoes were the Salomon Speed Cross 3’s. They have a very aggressive tread coating the bottom of the shoe, motion control (anti-pronation) platforms, composed of lightweight uppers and a flexible midsole and outsole, this shoe offers ample protection from hazards on the trail and an aggressive design that helps you move fast. I noticed an immediate change my first run in them! I felt like I was connected to the ground, able to move my feet quicker dodging what the ground had laid out in front of me. The Salomon Speed Cross is one of the more aggressive trail shoes out there and this may not be what you need. These are great shoes for beginning but I have found they are not my long distance shoe. There are lots of options as far as zero drop versus a higher drop level, aggressive tread versus low profile, and wide versus narrow toes boxes. Do your research and make sure you are getting into the right shoe for your foot, goals and terrain. You also might want to wear a shoe a half size bigger than your road shoes. You will need a little more toe room then on the road as the trails offer many tough terrain down hills and as soon as your toe touches the front of your shoe it can be game over. Over time you may even be lucky enough to experience the loss of your toe nails.
Pack: It is time to ditch your hip belt. Running on a trail will probably result in your bottles falling out of your belt and you getting really annoyed after picking them up a million times. A run in the trails can usually take longer then a run on the road so it is a good idea to pack properly and be prepared. Being self-sufficent is the key term here. A hydration pack is key for being able to carry enough food, water and extra things you need for being out in the wilderness. This becomes extremely pertinent if you are running in the back country. You need the capacity to carry extra layers, a whistle and at least an emergency blanket. The hydration pack that I use and love with all my heart is the Salomon Advance Skin 12 Set. It is my turtle shell and my life pack. I can carry everything I need with me from my trekking poles, water, food, clothing, my camera ect. A hydration back pack is not absolutely necessary, however a water belt or something that you can carry food and water in is. The elements of trail running to road running are also very different. Depending on the time of year and where you are you now have bugs, roots and rocks, mud and puddles so with a pack you can carry things like bandaids, wipes, toilet paper, bug spray, sunscreen ect. Even your cell phone… what if you get lost and need a rescue or want to snap a shot of the amazing view.
Clothing: Everything else can generally be universal for example (depending on weather) your running shorts or tights, T-shirt or jacket, compression socks if you run in them, a running hat or visor and gloves. If you are going on a longer run in the back country is always a good idea to bring an extra layer, just in case.
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While we are out there discovering new areas of the world we need to consider Trail Etiquette. Trail running has to be one of the most friendliest, supportive sports out there. While you are on the trails, running and smiling you will pass other people hiking or also running. Say: hi, good morning, hello, how’s it going, you are almost there, good job… just as you would in a race. The trail community is beyond friendly from what I have had the pleasure of learning. We also share the trail with many others and other sports. Mountain bikers use the trails we run on so keep in mind you are not the only one out there, you don’t own the trail. If you run with music, keep the volume low or keep a head phone out so you can move to the side if a biker or runner is coming up faster behind you. You can also move to the side to let others pass or in narrow sections let others coming in the opposite direction through first.
Let’s face it, being out on the trails for hours on end… you’re probably going to need to go to the bathroom. And there aren’t as many outhouses around or convenience stores that you can pop into if nature calls. I also pack with my some to go wipes so I can stay hygienic while on the go. If you have to go number 2, please make sure you do so off the trail and cover your droppings with leafs. I say this because it legitimately happens on the trails.. I’ve had 10 hour runs before. There are the perfect solution to backroom breaks on the go…I love my muff wipes can be found at http://ilovemymuff.com/products/fresh-wipes
Join a group:
There are tons of groups out there to join! Try your local running store or find a group through friends. Running with groups is a great way to meet new people, check out new routes and pick up on tips and tricks from more experienced trail runners!! I also recommend getting on Strava… it is an app that tracks your distance and you can connect with others in your area! We have a Run Like a Girl group on the app!
Figure out your nutrition:
As you transition into running trails you might find that you need to eat and drink more. When running a half marathon on the road say you are running for about 2 hours, I used to eat about 1-2 gels and drank about 30oz of water. Once you head into the trails your distance becomes less of a factor and time might become more what the focus is, for example running 21 km in the trails may take you at least 3 hours depending on the terrain. Keeping yourself fueled with approximately 100-200 calories per hour of moving if key. Switch up what you bring with you for longer runs, there are so many yummy snacks out there to pack along for a run! Hydration works the same way, you need to be able to carry and drink more water with you because your time moving becomes longer. Be smart with hydration and drink as much water and you need. Hydration packs usually carry 1.5-2 litres of water (you can get ones that carry 3 litres also). Keeping in mind the temperature on hot days if you are planning to be running for a couple of hours we use electrolyte/salt tabs in our water to help replenish the salt we are sweating out. The great thingwith using electrolyte tablets is that its like drinking Gatorade or a sports drink but with out the sugar. We recommend Nuun or Hammer Fizz tabs. They come in awesome convinent tubes and have 12 tabs in one. One tab is needed for 500ml of water and contains 360 mg Sodium / 50 mg Potassium / 25 mg Magnesium / 13 mg Calcium.
Keep in mind everyone is different you may not need or like any of the items I have just talked about. It’s a learning process while you are out there and you can test and try out different things to find what is right for you!
Know the difference:
No two trails are made alike, some are more technical than others, and others are more steep. Do you research before heading out on what the trail looks like so you can be best prepared! Rocks, routes, steep up hill, technical downhills, obstacles? This is a technical trail. Nice smooth paths with not many features or obstacles.. a non-technical trail! Start with this and then start increasing the difficulty! You definitely want to ease into it!!