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Trail Running: 5 Benefits and 10 Tips To Get Started

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If you want to take your running to the next level or keep it interesting, then try trail running. Trail running is when you run on surfaces that aren’t paved roads. Instead, trail running takes place on sand, dirt, forest, foot, or snow paths.

You don’t need towering mountains, rocky terrain, and incredible elevation losses and gains to “trail run.” You just need to go off the beaten path.

A brief history of trail running

Trail running got started officially with the Dipsea Trail Race in California in the U.S. in 1905. Then, nearly 70 years later races such as the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (1974), Leadville Trail 100 (1983), Marathon des Sables in Morocco (1986), and the Grand Raid de La Réunion (1989), started to pique runners’ interest in trail running.

In the early 2000s, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® or UTMB was born, spurring several other challenging and popular trail races worldwide. This launched the sport of trail running into popularity and onto the world stage.

Now there are trail races around the globe attracting runners worldwide.

5 benefits of trail running

Trail running takes many of the benefits of road running to the next level.

  1. Trail running connects people to nature, promoting physical and emotional wellbeing.
  2. The uneven terrain strengthens many muscle groups and lessens the stress of repetition road running has on our bodies.
  3. The softer surfaces are also easier on the body than running on paved roads and paths.
  4. Trail running allows runners to enjoy the process of running, irrespective of set paces, mileage, etc.
  5. Trail running also offers runners fantastic views of our planet!

What makes trail running challenging?

Trail running is challenging if you are running on trails that climb and descend mountains. It’s also extremely challenging due to the terrain.

Trail runners must stay focused on how and where their feet strike to avoid a trip on a root or rock. You also must make sure you know where you are going and are prepared for the elements!

Are ultra-running and trail running the same?

Ultra-running and trail running are not the same. Ultra-running is running a distance over 42k or 26.2 miles (marathon distance). Trail running is running that occurs on unpaved surfaces.

Many ultra-running races take place on trails, making those races a type of trail running race.

What are the best trails to run on around the world?

Every country around the world features spectacular trails for trail runners.

Here are 5 of the world’s best trails to run on:

1. Moonlight Track, New Zealand outside Queensland, meanders through a valley layered by jagged mountain peaks. The top offers a breathtaking view of the Southern Alps.

2. Maderas Volcano, Nicaragua, features a challenging path through lush green rain forests littered with howler monkeys and fantastic views of the volcano and crater lake.

3. Two Lairigs, Glencoe, Scotland, is another natural beauty created by a volcano, in which trail runners can take in the green mountain slopes and fantastic mountain views all along the path.

4. Berner Oberland, Switzerland, is the place to take in breathtaking Alpine scenery. Trail runners are gifted with scenic summits and dramatic snow-capped ridgelines, sure to keep you motivated to keep running.

5. Deschutes River Trail, Portland, Oregon, U.S. is an undiscovered jewel in the U.S., featuring a river cutting through green mountainsides, idyllic vistas, and charming bridges.

What trail running gear do I need?

Before you try trail running, you need proper gear.

Proper trail running gear includes:

  1. A good pair of trail running shoes
  2. A reliable GPS watch
  3. A handheld water bottle
  4. Proper clothing for any inclement weather

How do I get started trail running?

Once you have the right trail running gear, it’s pretty easy to get started trail running if you follow these ten trail running tips.

10 Trail Running Tips to Get Started Trail Running

1. Get trail running shoes. Aim for one with good support, stability, grip, and comfort.

2. Find a trail. Check out this website to locate your trail running destination. You can also ask your local running store, running group, or running friends. Pay attention to how long it may take to run the trail. Running distance on trails can take much longer than on roads.

Don’t pick a trail that’s more challenging than what you are ready for. Gradually increase elevation, distance, and challenging terrain as you do more trail running.

3. Study the route. Know where you are going before you hit the trail. A wrong turn can make your trail running experience from invigorating to stressful and scary quickly.

4. Tell people your plans. Make sure your friends and family know where you are going, when, and when to expect you back. Bonus if you can find some friends to run with you.

5. Bring your phone, ID, and GPS. A GPS can help you stay on track. An ID can help you in case you get into trouble. A phone can help you if you need help…and to capture some of the awe-inspiring views you may see! Calling to check in with loved ones on longer trail runs is also a good idea.

6. Know the conditions. Depending on the trail, you may experience varying weather conditions. Trails with big ascents and descents can go from hot to cold and dry to wet. Bring the appropriate gear.

7. Pack food and hydration. If the trail run will take several hours, be sure to pack fuel and hydration. If the trail takes longer than two hours, especially if you’re running in the heat, you may need more than a single water bottle. Electrolyte drinks and energy bars can keep you well-fueled.

8. Keep an eye on the trail. Trail runners must keep their eyes on the ground to ensure they don’t trip on a rock or root or slip on ice or leaves. If you want to take in the views, stop and look around.

Remember, trail running is more about the journey than the destination. Unless you’re going for a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on a trail, you’re not there to race.

9. Pace yourself. Don’t start your trail run running up the hills. Save your legs for the journey and go slow, even walk, up and down the hills. Use your whole foot, not just your tiptoes as you might on the road, going up hills.

When you ascend, be sure to keep your feet under your center of gravity, stand tall, and shorten your stride.

10. Beware of wild animals. If you’re running a trail that may have hunters, wear bright colors. If you’re running a trail that may have wildlife, stay alert, make noise if you see wildlife, and consider bringing pepper spray if an animal approaches you.

Trail running requires a bit more preparation than road running, but the views make it worth it!

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