There is no more liberating activity than trail running. Beginning is also easier than you might think. We have put together an overview of what you should consider as a newbie for training purposes.

There is almost a primitive satisfaction that comes from running trails. There’s certainly good reason why man has two legs and has for thousands, hundreds of thousands of years optimized the skeletal system through walking and running. Sports such as swimming, biking, skiing and rock climbing are basically “secondary sporting activities”. From the very beginning, man has used his legs on trails as a hunter-gatherer, running across fields and plains. Down through the years, man has forgotten his legs in part to become the complacent couch potato. However, trail running is something that can be easily (re) learnt! The following tips will assist in getting you started into trail running and training.

 Trail Running Tips for kicking off: Getting started is easy

If you're a newbie trail runner, the first training session should not last into the night. Starting gently, is the first trail running tip for beginners. | Photo: Petzl / John Evans
If you’re a newbie trail runner, the first training session should not last into the night. Starting gently, is the first trail running tip for beginners. | Photo: Petzl / John Evans

The first step to trail running is simple enough – if you take the right approach. A good rule of thumb: start slowly and gently, with mindfulness. Listen to your body. Those that are “cold starting” and previously never run before, should initially start out by trail running only two to three times a week and then only for short distances of no more than four to five kilometers. Even at the beginning of trail running training, it is advisable to vary the running training with other sporting activities so as not to over-burden the muscles. Compatible sports are especially swimming or cycling, since the muscles used for each are so completely different.

Trail running to a plan

If you enjoyed your first trail run and want to do more, then consider building a weekly or fortnightly trail run into your training schedule. Training programmes for trail running and running in general, are a dime a dozen, however as with any other running program, how hard you push yourself is down to you and if it is a varied workout you are after, then trail running provides a great gym. Depending upon the terrain, you can practice your hill running – developing a good downhill and uphill technique – or you can use trees and logs to do other exercises on – pull ups on branches or ski-jumping over fallen logs. There are also trail running races, which could prove to be a good target event for you to train for. No matter what your level, 5K runner; 10K runner or competitive runner, there are trail events available. We strongly advise anyone, particularly those that have never participated in competition racing before to consult a doctor prior to commencing.

The pulse importance

A pulse watch facilitates systematic trail running training. Manufacturers such as Suunto offer online platforms where you can record your own training progress. | Photo: Suunto / Wyatt Quest
A pulse watch facilitates systematic trail running training. Manufacturers such as Suunto offer online platforms where you can record your own training progress. | Photo: Suunto / Wyatt Quest

Those who train systematically will no doubt have an easier time of it with a pulse or GPS watch to achieve the set goals based on a detailed training plan. In addition, it’s fun to evaluate your own training progress and a GPS will help keep record of completed tracks with the help of online platforms such as Garmin Connect or Suunto Movescount.

However, there are passionate runners who train exclusively to their body’s signals without heart rate monitors and GPS watches as an aid. Competition-oriented runners should only do this when they have developed long-term experience as an athlete and an excellent body feeling!

 

Trail Running Training Tip: One of the most common beginner mistakes in training for races is setting the pace too fast in training sessions. A rule of thumb is generally; the distance of a regular running training session for competition purpose should be run approximately one minute slower than the pace you plan to run during the competition. Trail running rarely has a targeted, average speed, although the same rule here still applies: better to train slowly than too fast!

Six Trail Running Tips for Beginners

Finally, we would like to pass on to budding trail runners, six suggestions that are guaranteed to release the natural runner within you!

 

1. Spontaneity

Whether you're running a trail near your neighborhood or exploring a foreign trail, trail running is about finding the inner quiet. | Photo: Suunto
Whether you’re running a trail near your neighborhood or exploring a foreign trail, trail running is about finding the inner quite. | Photo: Suunto

There is nothing worse than being confronted by others with comments such as “Running is so boring!” or “You’ll never make it!” and should be simply ignored. Once you have built up your own little run cosmos, running is one of the easiest, healthiest and most rewarding sports that there is! That is why this quote rings true to trail running: “You feel even better when you’re finished running”.

2. Open the door and run approach

Putting on your running shoes, opening the front door and just taking off certainly has its advantages and is an uncomplicated way of integrating a training session. Whether you are at home, at your place of work or even in a new territory (on holidays) you have the advantage of not needing to get in a car, you can be as spontaneous as you want and if you know the turf, you can pick up your pace and do a few quick training sessions around the block.

3. Invest in the right gear

If you intend to not only run, but also have fun and enjoy the time spent outdoors while you’re doing it, then you’ll need to invest in trail-specific running shoes best suited to your local trails and running clothes. Trail running attire should match the weather conditions, climate and season.  Sunny conditions call for light-colored, moisture-wicking running gear (lighter colors reflect heat while darker colors absorb it).
Essential in cold conditions, layering is the art of staying dry and warm without overheating.  Use a three-tiered layering system including a base layer, mid and outer layers designed to draw moisture away from your skin while keeping you warm. As you heat up, remove outer layers, cap, hat, gloves or unzip tops to allow better airflow.  On all but the coldest days, one moisture-wicking, windproof layer will suffice for the lower body. Padded trail-running socks cushion your feet and ankle gaiters keep your shoes pebble- and mud-free. If your feet get soaked from crossing streams or bogs, you may be more susceptible to blisters and soggy shoes will feel heavy.

4. Run with a friend

Running with a friend or a friend can help you commit to training on a regular basis. | Photo: Kari Traa
Running with a friend  can help you commit to training on a regular basis. | Photo: Kari Traa

As with many other sports, runners and trail runners can be divided into lone wolves who’d either rather complete their running sessions solo or enjoy running with the pack. If it’s the latter you’d prefer, then finding a running buddy shouldn’t be a problem. There are many running clubs, in small towns as well as in major cities and also athletic clubs who are delighted to have a new member.

5. Variety decreases risk & increases performance

Several pairs of running shoes provide optimal performance in different terrain, route variations (distance, road/trail). It’s an age-old truth—repetitive motions can lead to overuse injuries and studies have shown that wearing multiple, different types of running shoes can lessen your injury risk because you’re varying the impact on specific muscle groups. So change your shoes regularly – it keeps you from striking the same way.

6. Competition running

Finding the distance and type of race that interests you shouldn’t be too difficult. There is a plethora of levels ranging from a five-kilometer Mini Trail, ambitious Half Marathon, to a full distance Marathon Trail, right up to a 100-kilometer Ultra and also cross-country races in a variety of distances. There’s plenty of fun to be had in preparing for a specific race and of course seeing it through to the finish line is the ultimate.

Tips for trail running training books

Three hot running-related reads that we can recommend – Scott Jurek, in his book Eat & Run, opens up about his incredible career — as an elite ultra marathon athlete and a vegan. It even includes vegan recipe tips! Another great training guide to trail running is Trail Running: The Complete Guide, by Jeff Galloway, USA Olympic 10K runner. This book is geared primarily toward beginners, offers many practical tools for those learning how to run trails and also includes training plans for trail races anywhere from 5K to 100 miles, as well as nutritional tips, strategies for running hills and speed training advice. An excellent read for trail running novices, is: Runner’s World Complete Book of Running by the specialist magazine with the same name. This book offers an informative sweeping blow to trail running gear, training schedules, diet and the competition scene!