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July 2022

How to Fall in Love with Trail Running

Written By: Cassie Markham (@cassie.adventuring)

Running was never a favourite activity of mine, while I enjoyed what it did for my body and mind, it always felt monotonous and wreaked havoc on my bones and joints. I tried to appreciate (road) running, I really did. I even ran a few half marathons over the years, but I never could get into it.

When one of my good friends suggested trail running I’m certain I scoffed at the idea. “Why would I want to add hills and obstacles to something that I already don’t enjoy?”. But as time went on and my love for the mountains grew, it became a natural progression to checking off longer objectives in a single day. And much to my surprise I’ve actually come to love trail running.

So how do you fall in love with trail running?

1. Let go of all expectations.

It sounds cliche, I know.. The first step to falling in love with most things is dropping your expectation at the door, but this step is really important.

Turns out, my preconceived notions of trail running were off - trail running (for most people) is not just adding hills and obstacles after all. In a lot of cases it’s walking (or speed-walking) the hills, jogging the flats and running the downhills. The obstacles (roots, steps and creeks) are half the fun as they remove the monotony of road running and keep you focused on every step. And as a bonus, running on soft dirt or gravel vs. hard asphalt is so much easier on your joints.

The other expectation you’ll need to let go of is pace, if you typically run a 5 minute KM on the road don’t expect that to transfer to the trail; with the added elevation and obstacles your pace will change.

This was actually a relief for me. With road running I used to be so hyper-focused on my pace, “was it improving, was I getting faster every run?” to the point where it actually ruined the experience for me. Trail running frees you from that expectation.

Every trail is different, every run will be different.

2. Get the right gear (and fuel):

With the more technical, variable and sometimes remote terrain, gear becomes more important when trail running.

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?

I’d recommend going into a store and checking out all your different options and getting fitted. I went into my local Valhalla Pure Outfitters and they were able to help me find a great shoe.

Hydration Systems

With trail running, 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 types of hydration systems for trail running:

  1. 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 layers that you may need.

  2. 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 a run 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.

I tend to do a 50:50 ratio with pure water (easier to drink with snacks) and electrolytes.

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.

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.

I generally dress in a few layers that I can pull in and out of my vest through-out the run.

Other Essentials:

  • Sunglasses
  • Waterproof sunscreen & bug repellent
  • Navigation tools
  • Satellite communication device
  • Headlamp (with a minimum 200 lumens)
  • Lightweight gloves
  • First aid kit (including blister care)
  • Bear spray (if in bear country)
  • Activity tracker

For a full list of my preferred gear scroll to the bottom.

3. Choose 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.

When I was getting started I stuck to local parks and trails and hikes that I was already familiar with and worked up from there.

A big catalyst for falling in love with trail running was actually my poor planning. A lot of provincial parks require overnight permits for backcountry camping and I was never organized enough to get a permit when I needed one so that meant these multi-day objectives had to be checked off in a day if I wanted to see them.

Once I got into it I was truly surprised with the amount of places I could visit that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

Staying Safe:

  • Always let somebody know where you are going, your route, when to expect to hear from you.

Download your route (and charge your cell phone) before heading out. I like using apps like Gaia or AllTrails where I can download map segments and it will live update where I am on the map. Even if you don’t have service or find yourself off trail it will help.

You will not always have service—know your route and consider bringing a GPS and satellite communication device.

4. Get some running friends.

Another way to discover trails is to join a local trail-running club. A lot of communities have local groups and they’re an excellent way to find new places to run as well as meet experienced trail runners who can share tips. Ask your local outdoor store or do a quick google search to find a club near you. I’ve been attending runs with the Abbotsford Trail Running Club lately and love getting out and exploring local trails and meeting new people.

5. Recover!

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.

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.

Things to be mindful of when trail running:

Just like hiking, biking and camping, there are etiquette rules that you’ll want to know to be a courteous trail runner.

  • Stay on marked trails.
  • Practice Leave No Trace

  • Be conscious of other trail users. Loudly call out “On your right (or left)” when approaching others from behind to avoid startling other runners, or hikers and/or taking them off guard. Make room if you hear someone is coming up behind on a narrow, single track.
  • Keep it positive. Try to contribute to the trail community and expand it, even if it’s just with a smile, a nod, or a few short friendly words.


Gear Guide

Hydration Vest

Trail Runners

Snacks, Gels and Electrolytes

Headlamp

Sunglasses

Windbreaker

Insulation

Bras

Tops:

Bottoms:

Socks