Where Nature and Fitness Meet: Trail Running Tips for Beginners

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An interest in fitness is certainly understandable since we only get one body in our lifetimes. Taking care of it in that regard makes absolute sense, and running is a wonderful way to work toward the health and happiness that tending to your fitness needs can deliver.

As an Appalachian girl, I also understand the beauty and wonder that nature can bring. Fond memories of my childhood, in fact, include blackberry-picking with my dad and playing in mountain streams, and to this day, sitting on the front porch while a strong breeze goes by is a notable experience to me.

Fitness and nature are both intriguing concepts, so blending them by taking your exercise routine into nature itself is a definite option. And what better way to do that than to make use of hiking trails?

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For a runner though, there are some things to keep in mind as you take your routine into the heart of nature to provide a better running experience—and a safer one. So before you lace up those running shoes and take a sprint through a hiking trail, be sure to consider these details!

Safety First

It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to do something to better your health that actually worsens your health in the long run through injury or accident. And, take it from the Appalachian writing this post, there are plenty of things that can harm you in a wooded or mountainous region. Not only is there very little way of knowing *who* you might run into—sue me! I watch crime shows!— but you also can’t know *what* for sure. Every geographic area might have its own natural dangers, but in my neck of the woods, a runner/hiker could cross paths with a bear or a copperhead snake. Clearly, bears can be dangerous creatures, and copperheads are poisonous. I, for one, don’t want to be mauled or poisoned just because I went for a jog.

So take a friend, a family member, or a spouse! Hiking trails are safest when traveled in numbers. This way, if you get injured, someone is there to help you in your wounded state and get you to a medical facility. In addition, a second set of eyes can help you spot danger and avoid it. Even having just one other person is double the attention that can be given to overseeing the terrain—maybe saving your life or health from something as lively as a snake or as mundane as a tree branch that could trip you. It’s better safe than sorry, so be sure to run in numbers!

Do Your Homework

Not only can it pay to know what kind of natural dangers your hiking trails can bring so you can prepare for them, but it’s also worth noting that trails can be winding and unsure in very unique ways. What my local trail has to offer might be different than what you could expect if you were to hike somewhere in Colorado. For a beginner, you might want to stick to trails that are well maintained and wide.  The less paved and un-cleared the trail is, the harder your run could be—so maybe save those for after you’ve tried and succeeded at the clearer ones!

Another reason to do your homework is that you should always respect each hiking trail’s rules. Just like you shouldn’t go into a gym and use the equipment improperly, you should keep the area’s guidelines in mind and in practice. Otherwise, you could damage the trail itself in a much more permanent means than leaving behind a water bottle (but don’t do that either!). If people run beside the trail, for instance, after a while, the trail itself could change because what’s surrounding it is being beaten down by human footsteps. Keep the trails clean and structured!

Prepare Yourself 

Deciding to start running along a trail is a good strategy to bring nature into the equation, but it’s different than running the circular, paved route that surrounds the swing set at the local park. That detail is one of the most important things to keep in mind before you start your hiking trail run so you can prepare—physically and mentally. Physically, the terrain can be much more demanding, and it can employ different muscles than what running along the side of the highway can exercise. To make sure you’re physically prepared for the change, do your research to see what muscles will likely be employed, and be sure to spend time strengthening those areas. Things like age and health could also weigh into this equation.

Your mentality also needs to be in the right place when you start your hiking run since, as I already noted, it’s different than running in more traditional places. Logic alone could prove this to you. Walking at a normal pace for five minutes might not be a complication, but try walking at the same speed uphill. You might have trouble getting your breath by the time you get to the top! Just like any other exercise regimen you try, you might want to give yourself a little mental breathing room and a space of time to adjust to the newness of the experience. Realize that it’ll be challenging, and be ready to need time to excel at that challenge. You might also want to give some thought to your own preferences as well since they could make or break your routine—like whether or not you’re a morning person!

Running along a hiking trail can be a breath of fresh air in changing up your routine, and a whole lot of fresh breaths of nature’s air. Equipping yourself with the right information can help you make the most out the experience—from knowing your pre-run needs to understanding the trail itself. For the best running experience on your chosen hiking trail, make sure you’ve armed yourself with all the information you need for successful run!