Guest Post: Tips to Begin Trail Running for the First Time in Your Life

The weather is getting to be AMAZING here in the Philadelphia area, and I’m itching to get back outside to run.

Can you tell I’m happy the weather is nice?! Ha!

I’ve briefly dabbled in running trails before, but Guest Author Dan Chabert might have convinced me to get off the roads and back on the trails! Maybe he can convince you to do the same!

Tips to Begin Trail Running for the First Time in Your Life

When you’re a runner, you are inherently gifted with a ton of latitude as to how you can perform your sport of choice. Runners can run indoors or outdoors, at all times of the year, and even at all hours of the day or night. Some runners love the treadmill, while others eschew it; similarly, some runners will literally run for hours, if not days, on end through mountainous terrain, while others will happily stick with running their 2-mile loop around their neighborhood. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t matter how far or how fast you run because if you run at all, you can call yourself a runner. Not many sports can say that they offer their participants the same level of flexibility.

I’ve been running for most of my life, and nearly all of my adult life, and it wasn’t until a recent move to northern California that I ventured into new-for-me running territory: trail running. Coming from the relative flatlands of the midwest and the urban jungle of Chicago, trail running wasn’t really on my radar, but now that I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s hard *not* to think about trail running.

Getting started with a new type of running, such as trail running, can feel daunting and intimidating, but it needn’t be. Below, I’ll share some tips and strategies I’ve cultivated since I’ve begun to incorporate more regular trail running into my running routine. While I still primarily run on roads, I can definitely attest to the value of trail running and its effects on my speed and endurance on the roads — something I’ll get into in a second. If you’re a runner, there is definitely a place for trail running in your fitness routine.

Start small. Just like with anything else surrounding running, it’ll behoove you to start small and to start deliberately. If you’ve never run on a single trail in your life, don’t expect for your first trail run to be running Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. Find a trail or a park near your home — look for swaths of green on a map, or check out an area immediately adjacent to a body of water — and give it a go for 10 or 20 minutes. If you’re used to running on pavement or on flat roads, trail running may feel really weird at first. Don’t worry about your pace — it’s somewhat irrelevant on trails, since you’ll likely be navigating tricky terrain and near-constant ascents and descents — and instead, just listen to the feedback your body is giving you.

Don’t worry about the gear right away. I know that we runners love our gear, but stick with what you already have when you’re first getting started with trail running. Chances are, the gear you already possess will be more than enough for this new hobby of yours. You may eventually find that you’ll need to add some new items, like a bigger hydration pack, taller socks, or maybe a pair of running shoes, but give yourself some trial and error opportunity time first before investing in new stuff. Besides, the money you save on gear you can spend on trail races!

Make trail friends. It can be incredibly helpful to run with a buddy when you’re on trails, and especially when you’re getting started, it can be really important to run with someone who knows the ins and outs of the terrain. Pepper your new friend with questions about trail running and questions about the park/terrain you’re canvassing, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you master the lay of the land. Soon enough, you, too, will be an expert on that trail system, and you’ll be able to help novice trail runners not get lost on their first forays, just as your new friends helped you stay on course. The trail community is pretty closely-knit, and most everyone adopts a pretty low-key vibe and approach to the run. These folks are runners who run for the simple joy of being able to run through some of the most beautiful parts of the country and who will never say no to spending time in “nature’s playground.”

Register for a trail race; it’ll be fun! Once you start trail running on a more regular basis, even if it’s just for a recovery/easy run each week, seriously consider putting a trail race on your calendar sometime. It’s always exciting to pin a bib on your shirt and toe the line to see how fast you can run, but in trail running, while that’s important, it’s seemingly not as important as just being out there to enjoy the ride that nature provides us. Of course, you can challenge yourself to see how fast you can tackle the ascents or monkey down the descents, but it seems like a lot of amateur runners simply love the environment and vibes they get from the trail running scene.

Be prepared to surprise yourself on the roads. You’ll likely notice that your running speed and endurance improve on the roads once you begin running trails pretty regularly. Be surprised, but don’t be. Chances are high that you’re running far more slowly on trails than you do on roads, and at the same time, trails help to strengthen your body — without a high injury risk — in ways that road running can’t or doesn’t. For example, if it takes you 24 minutes to run 3 miles on roads, it might take you 40 minutes to cover the same distance on trails — therefore, increasing your endurance capacity. In the process, you’re also getting mini-strength sessions in as you work your “stabilizer” muscles that you recruit when you’re trying to climb a mountain or fly down a hillside. Anecdotally, I feel that spending most of my long runs on trails during a recent marathon training program led me to finally break a three-year-old marathon road PR. Come race day, I felt stronger and faster than ever before.

Enjoy the journey, and have a blast. Trail running is such a nice reprieve from the cacophony of everyday life, and it’s a great way to fall in love with running again. You might find that you have no interest in running roads once you’re regularly on trails; that’s ok. There are worse problems to have.

While running might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I have yet to meet a runner who doesn’t love trail running. There is so much joy to glean from the experience, and the take-aways from trail running are so great that you probably stand to benefit from trying this new-to-you type of running more than you realize. You may wonder what took you so long to get here, and that’s ok — I feel the same way! Give yourself permission to try this new thing, and be energized by the joy you feel in the journey.

Writer’s Bio:

Dan Chabert

An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves to join ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick, That Sweet Gift, Nicershoes and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.

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