Beginners Guide to Trail Running


For those of you who enjoy a break away from the hustle and bustle of a busy city, and prefer to be outdoors and amongst it, trail running maybe for you.

It takes the average exerciser to places they may only ever see on a tv in a gym, and plunges them into the great outdoors. You can visit places you might never know existed if you aren’t the exploring type and it gives you the opportunity to find peace amongst nature if you enjoy the serenity.

For the more serious runner, it can offer you a variation in terrain which is useful for making fast progress for the roads. Softer ground gives you less impact on the joints but also less traction to challenge the lactic acid threshold and strength in the muscles. It can provide anything from gruelling hills and gravel, to scenic strolls alongside streams depending on the location and intensity you desire.

I have been trail running for 8 months now and apart from reaping the benefits in my general running, I have also learnt lots of little tips and tricks along the way, some of which I’d have been better knowing from the beginning. So for anyone who is keen to give trail running a go, or even for the beginner runner, taking the 15 minutes or so to read this article might save you a few blisters and other problems down the track. Learn from my mistakes and you will be better off.

  • TIP #1 – PLAN AHEAD

Know where you are going, what time you can be there, and let someone know.

National parks and trails are usually associated with Departments of Conservation that often require fees to be paid to maintain the upkeep of the park. Make sure you check out their website so you know what fees need to be paid upon entry. They normally have a rangers station either manned or unmanned where you will need to drop your money so make sure you do to avoid a fine or have your wheel clamped.

Also check the opening hours of the park on the website. There’s no use trying to be the heat by driving out there at 6am for a run to find a boom gate preventing entry because they aren’t open until 8am.

Last of all let someone know the trail you’re planning to run with a map and how long it should take and when you’ll be back. Parks are isolated places, and you just never know who or what you might come across. Anything from Grizzly Bears to Sexual Predators, as long as someone knows where you are and when to expect you back you can rest assured if you are going to be eaten, injured or attacked someone will eventually come to investigate.

Keep a map at home with an outline of your trail marked, and also keep a map on you if you are unfamilair with the area. I would even go so far to say that if you don’t have a gps unit, it’s worth carrying a compass with you. National parks can be easy to get lost in, trust me every tree starts to look the same after exhaustion and possible dehydration sets in so do yourself a favour and invest in a hand held gps especially if you are planning to tackle trails you haven’t run before, or which are unmarked.

  • TIP #2 – ALWAYS CARRY A FIRST AID KIT & A THERMAL BLANKET

For obvious reasons. It’s easy to look away from the track in front and stumble on a rock to twist your ankle or fall down an embankment. You never know the dangers so by preparing for the worst the best chance of an ideal outcome you will have. If you know the trail you are running prepare for the worst you know could happen on that trail.

Always carry a thermal blanket in case you were to have an injury that would cause you to go into shock. A thermal blanket will keep you warm, or also deflect the sun off you if you are for any reason immobile is inexpensive and easy to carry. The weather can turn quickly outside, and it’s an invaluable security to have if it does and you can’t run. Hopefully you might never use it, but it wouldn’t be worth not having if you did need it.

Oh and last but not least try and include a couple of fabric elastoplasts for any unsuspecting blisters that might crop up.

  • TIP #3 – ALLOW MORE WATER THAN NECESSARY

Carry a camelbak with more water than you need. Some trails have water stations, others do not. If you are to get lost you never know how much water you will need so allow double for what you think you will need on the run. Dehydration isn’t worth the risk.

Now that all the survivalist stuff is out the way, here’s some other tips which may seem obvious but can easily be forgotten once you become tired/hot/sore, or any of the afore mentioned.

  • TIP #4 – WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING & ALWAYS PICK YOUR LINES & USE PACE

It seems silly but it’s easy to lose concentration for a second and trip and fall and twist your ankle especially if you are going for long distances. Pick your line of running, especially down and up hills where you might be picking up speed or are at risk of falling down. Pick a running line of the most solid terrain. Sometimes this will be the outside part of the trail, say where water has been running down a hill, the outside is likely to be more firm ground for a solid foot strike. The outside of the trail is also the least worn part which usually means it’s got less pot holes and is smoother.

If you tend to pick up speed downhill, slalom across the trail keeping your core braced with your feet underneath you to soften the impact on the knees and lower back. Doing this will also prevent you from sliding down and loosing footing when there’s loose gravel. Think of it like downhill skiing. You don’t go straight, you go side to side. Once you have your cadence of your feet nice and quick, you will be able to maintain speed down the hill rather than pelt down only to lose balance and consequently stop, or waste energy putting on the brakes.

If you are running uphill watch out for rocks falling from runners ahead, visually target solid rocks and step and use these to push off. Use pace, if you find yourself running at walking pace then walk. Don’t waste energy busting your butt to get up the hill without stopping if you can walk it just as quick and conserve energy.

If you are running across water use speed and quick feet to avoid getting water logged. Pick a line with the least deep water and most useful terrain.

Make sure you start off slower than you need, use the first few km’s to get warmed up, and just remember even though you want to have a good training session you never know whats around the corner so it pays to think about always leaving a little in the tank.

TIP #5 – KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT

Theres nothing worse than swallowing a fly, ant, bug, spider web, tree branch or anything similar because you were too buggered to close your mouth. After running for so long you might feel you need the calories, but once it’s in your gob, I promise you’re going to wish otherwise. Or, you can always just convince someone else to come with you and let them run in front.

  • TIP #6 – USE A DECENT ANTI-CHAFE ROLL ON, POWDER OR GEL.

No one likes chaffing and it only gets worse with sweat. It’s worth investing in, bottom line.

  • TIP #7 – HAVE FUN AND ENJOY THE OUTDOORS

Don’t forget to look around and enjoy the scenery every now and then. You’ll see some amazing sights and really grow to appreciate the world we live in if you allow yourself the time.

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