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March 2023

How to Get Started: Trail Running

Have you been running (or hiking) for awhile now and grown curious about combining the two? Hitting the trails gives you access to a whole new network of routes outside of your typical roads.

Whether you’re starting off by combining your usual roads with nearby trails, pushing beyond the pavement entirely or extending your day hikes further into the backcountry there’s plenty of options.

If you’re ready to lace up, get a great workout in and enjoy some quality time in nature but not sure how to get started? This guide is for you.

Step 1: Get the right gear (and fuel):

With the more technical, variable and sometimes remote terrain, gearing up with the right shoes, hydration and fuel, plus technical clothing and essential items is crucial.

Shoes:

Your shoes need to perform to keep you from slipping in the mud and give you traction while climbing up rocks. Trail runners generally combine the motion and flexibility of a runner with the traction and durability of a hiking boot.

As a trail runner you tend to shorten your stride and keep the majority of your weight over your feet to help with balance and recovery after a missed step, as opposed to road running where you have longer strides to focus on distance and pace. This subtle change impacts the fit of your shoe and the cushioning you need to keep up with longer days in the mountains.

Things you’ll want to consider are:

  • Where do you want to run? How technical are the trails and what type of weather will you be running in? (Wet or dry?)
  • What type of foot do you have?
  • What type of runner are you? Pronator or underpronator?

With these considerations in mind, we recommend coming into a store and checking out all your different options and getting fitted.

Hydration Systems:

With trail running, especially for longer durations and on remote trails, you can’t just pop into a corner store if you're running low on hydration or fuel so you need to pack everything with you.

There are two main types of hydration systems for trail running: vests and belts.

Vests: With vests, you can choose either a bladder system or a bottle system (a lot of vests now have the option for both).

In either case the bladder or bottles are essentially strapped tightly to you from the shoulder to mid chest. The vest holds not only your hydration but also snacks, safety equipment and any layers that you may need, making this the best option for longer distances.

Belts: If vests aren’t your thing, you can opt for a hydration belt that will function much the same but typically these have a much lower capacity and will not be as useful if you choose to get into longer runs.

Hydration and Fuel:

Water: How much you need to drink depends on how long you are running and how much you are sweating, but here are some good basic guidelines for runs lasting 45 minutes or longer:

  • Pre-hydrate: Consider drinking 16–20 oz. about two hours before your run so you’ll start off properly hydrated.

  • Maintain hydration: Drink about 5–10 oz. of water every 15–20 minutes while running.

  • Drink after: Post-exercise hydration gets your fluid levels back to normal and can help with recovery. Drink 16–24 fl. oz. of water.

Fuel: For runs lasting less than an hour you may not need to carry more than an energy gel or two, but if you’ll be out for a couple hours or more you’ll want to have a selection of energy food such as bars, gels and chews.

Fuel really comes down to personal preference so you’ll want to test out a couple options before heading out for a longer run to see what works for you.


Clothing: Being comfortable on the trail is a part of your experience out there so picking the right clothing is essential. You’ll want to wear moisture-wicking gear that’s breathable and light-weight (this includes your socks) and for cool or wet weather, a lightweight rain shell is a must. For longer runs, you’ll want to dress in layers so you can adjust as needed throughout your run.

Other Essentials:

Step 2: Choosing the right trail and staying safe:

When planning your first outing, it’s important to remember that trail running generally takes longer than road running over a similar distance. The elevation and uneven terrain slow you down, so start easy until you get a better gauge of your trail pace.

Always let somebody know where you are going, your route, when to expect to hear from you. We also recommend downloading your route (and charging your cell phone) before heading out. You can use apps like Gaia or AllTrails where you can download map segments and it will live update where you are on the map this way, even if you don’t have service or find yourself off trail it will help. If you’ve planning to get into more remote areas satellite communication devices and GPS would also be an asset.

Step 3: Working on your technique and recovery:

With the more technical and uneven terrain you will need to change up your technique a bit from your typical road run.

Tips for getting started:

Shorten your stride, and keep your feet closer together, especially on hills. Keep your feet underneath you to maintain your balance on technical terrain and keep your eyes down the trail scanning at least 5-10 meters in front of you to prepare you for upcoming obstacles.

Running on the trail may be a bit of an adjustment at first but eventually you’ll find the obstacles actually make it more interesting and less monotonous than road running. Keep the different obstacles such as roots, and rocks in mind but keep it cruisy and remember to have fun with it. When first starting out you may even choose to speed-walk/hike your hills, while running your flats and down hills.

Recovery:

Trail running can actually aid in recovery from pain and injury caused by road running. Trails are softer and that soft dirt absorbs some of the shock every time you strike the ground, giving your feet, ankles and legs a break.

Trail running is also less repetitive than road running due to the variations in elevation and terrain. This means you’ll be doing less of the exact same motion and will reduce the chances of repetition injuries (specifically on your joints).

That being said there’s still things you can do to aid in recovery:

  • Eat and hydrate properly within 30 minutes of finishing.
  • Stretch: do some post-run yoga or stretching to lengthen out your muscles.
  • Foam roll: spend 15-30 minutes rolling out your feet and calves post-run.

Keep in mind that the uneven terrain works muscles that you didn’t know existed and you will be sore in different ways than traditional running. It is normal and it’s a good thing - it means you are getting stronger!