Trail Running 101


Adding variety to your running keeps you mentally fresh, and trail running might be the next big thing for you to try. The cross-training effect of hills, the challenge of uneven surfaces and the sheer beauty of the trail can have an uplifting effect on your training. Be an explorer and discover a new part of your city or province. Think of each trail run as an adventure where you improve both your mental and physical well-being.

David Marcu / Unsplash

If you’re a trail running rookie, here are some things you may be wondering about:

Do I need running shoes designed specifically for trails?
This comes down to personal preference and what type of trail you’ll be running on. Some runners prefer a trail shoe specifically designed for rugged off-road conditions—these tend to have a more aggressive outer sole, waterproof material and a lower profile to provide a greater feel for the trail. Personally, I run in my regular training shoes, since they provide the specific motion control needed for my biomechanics. I like the feel of a regular shoe with the familiar support I’m used to, and it makes me feel less vulnerable to injury. If conditions warrant it, I’ll add on a pair of Due North traction aids for better grip.

Should I carry water with me?
Water is essential for every runner, since staying well-hydrated improves your overall performance and recovery. For shorter distances, a traditional hydration belt (single or multi-bottle) will work just fine. For long runs over extended distances, a CamelBak hydration pack is a great option. Water is the top choice for most runners, but if you sweat more profusely or the conditions are hot and humid, an electrolyte solution like Gatorade can be helpful.

What precautions should I take to help ensure my safety?
Since trail running may take you off the beaten path, have a safety plan. Leave behind a map of where you will be running and take a fully charged mobile phone with you. Be sure to register at the start and finish of the trail if required. Know the area and the dangers within it so you are prepared. Think about potential animal encounters and be prepared to take evasive action. Brainstorm how you would deal with a situation like a sprained ankle and still remain safe. Pack an extra layer of clothing, a whistle, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a hat. Wear a light pair of gloves to protect your hands and wipe the sweat from your face. The best scenario is to buddy up and run with a friend or a group, which is great for both motivation and safety.

I often see trail runners wearing knee-high socks—why is this?
Many runners find that longer compression socks improve their balance and circulation. The added confidence and warmth of the longer sock can help prevent potential muscle pulls or soft tissue injuries. They also provide some protection from ticks and insect bites.

How do I avoid an injury from tripping on a rock or tree root?
If you’re new to trail running, watch your pace and try not to be overly ambitious. A wearable heart rate monitor will indicate how much harder you are running on a hilly, challenging trail. As your body adapts and your balance and footing become more stable, you can pick up the pace moderately—but you should still aim to stay within your comfort zone for the majority of the run. Your number one goal is to stay injury-free on this new terrain, so take it easy at first and keep a careful eye on the trail ahead. When the path opens up or you have a clear uphill section, then you can test yourself a little more. Consistent training will soon have you running stronger and faster.

How do I find a suitable running trail near me?
Check with your local park or conservation area, as they may be able to recommend routes and advise you about trail conditions. Google Maps now includes some trails in their street view. Ask at your local Running Room store, as they can provide you with directions and information about trails in the area.


John Stanton is the President and Founder of the Running Room. He is the author of 10 books about running, walking and family fitness.


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