There’s no reason you shouldn’t add trail running to your training schedule every now and then, but before you hit the trails, there are some things you should consider. We’ve compiled a short list of tips and suggestions that will help you succeed in the realm of off-road running, whether you plan to pursue the sport seriously or simply want to train on the trails once or twice a week.
eyes on the trail
On the road or track, you can look wherever you want and you’ll probably be OK; for the most part, your runs are smooth and without obstacles. But when trail running, rocks, roots and anything else in nature could trip you up if you’re not looking for them. Keep your eyes on the trail. Otherwise, you might take a tumble.
Bring a map
If you don’t know the area, bring a map. No, you don’t have to carry a fold-up paper map into the forest with you, but it’s a good idea to have a map or GPS on your phone. It’s so easy to get lost in unfamiliar territory, and sometimes you can even get disoriented in forests you thought you knew well. Having your phone or GPS watch to help get you back to civilization is a nice safety net.
Get trail gear
If you’re going to really give trail running a go, you need to invest in the proper gear. This could just be trail-specific running shoes (which have lugs on the outsole for better traction on dirt, sand or mud), but if you plan to run longer distances, you may want to get a hydration vest and poles. Really, it’s up to you to decide how invested in the sport you want to become.
Lower your expectations
You’ve got your shiny PBs from the road and the track, but none of that matters when you hit the trails. Oh, you’re running a 5K trail race? Odds are you’re not coming close to your road PB. Do you plan to run 40 minutes hard in the woods for your next workout? That’ll be a good effort, but don’t be upset when you check your distance and it’s nowhere near last week’s 40-minute workout on the road. Trail running is hard, so lower your expectations when it comes to pace.
jump into a race
Racing is fun. Trail running is fun. So, it only makes sense that racing on the trails would be fun, too. Enter a race. Don’t set a certain time expectation, just go out and have fun.
Take food and water
When you’re running on the roads, you’re rarely too far from either home or somewhere that you can get water or some nutrition. If you bonk on the trails, you could have a long slog back to your car. Carry a gel and bring a water bottle. You’ll thank yourself later when the effort and the heat starts to get to you.