Trail Running Tips For Beginners

the best running workouts

Are you thinking about starting trail running?

As you might already know, it’s very different from running on the road so I have put together these trail running tips for beginners to get you started.


Why Start Trail Running?

There are many reasons why you might want to start trail running, but mainly it gives you the opportunity to get outside and start exploring the wonderful countryside that is on offer wherever you live.

Plus, let’s be honest, running on the pavement isn’t exactly exciting is it. I can’t think of anything more boring – which is why I have never even run a road marathon in my life.

But of course, there are also great benefits to running on the trails.

  • There is less stress on your body. Compared to road running on a constant solid surface, the trails are varied and often softer to run on.
  • As surfaces are more varied, you will become a more well rounded and stronger runner when out on the trails.

As I said previously, trail running is different and there are many things to consider when going off on your next adventure. So here are my top tips for trail running as a beginner.

Pick the Right Shoes

When you are starting out I wouldn’t suggest buying all the gear that can be used on a trail run. There isn’t much point in spending $100’s on gear until you are hooked and plan to spend more time out there or are entering races.

However, I do think the right shoes are essential from the off. Trail running shoes have a better grip and are built to protect your feet much better than road shoes. It’s better to invest rather than risk injury through poor shoes.

Look Where You Are Going

This might sound obvious, but it’s essential. When you are running on the nice flat tarmac it’s easy to get carried away with yourself and lose concentration. Do this on the trails and you might come unstuck.

On most trails, there will be loose debris, stones, rocks, roots, etc. Lose concentration and you could be in for a painful fall. Always look ahead at the terrain and assess your next steps to avoid any surprises with your footing.

Stop And Take It All In

When running on the trails you are likely to come across some amazing views. Take so time to stop and see how beautiful our world is. If you have a phone with a camera then why not stop and take a few pics. I have to admit, I do it all the time.

Near White Horse Hill on the Ridgeway, Wiltshire.

I always like to take a photo or two when I’m running new locations. It’s like my trail running scrapbook of wonderful places.

Run By Time

It doesn’t matter who you are, running on trails takes longer than running on the roads. It’s wise to be mindful of this when you are out. If your planning to run 10 miles just understand that it will take longer on the trails. For some just starting out, it might be better to decide you are going to run for an hour rather than a distance.

Once you understand the pace and what the trails are like then do the distance or stick with the time.

Carry Fluids

This is a no brainer. Whenever you are out you need to keep yourself hydrated. You never know how long you might be out on a run. The weather can affect your day especially if it’s hot so you need to keep those fluids topped up.

Either carry a bottle or consider a hydration pack for your longer outings of longer than two hours. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in trouble because you didn’t bring a drink.

Tell Someone Where You Are Going

This might seem a bit silly to some but seriously it’s not. I always tell my wife where I am running and how long I’m expecting to be. Not because she wants to know my every move, but if I was to have an accident and didn’t return home when expected, she at least knows where I was running. If it needs to be reported then people know where I am.

You can also get apps on your phone that show your location as far as I am aware.

Carry A First Aid Kit

Probably for the longer runs but consider a small first aid kit. You never know when you may need a plaster or other kit. On a long race, it’s worth having something that can deal with blisters or chafing. Also, on some races, you have to have a small first aid kit as part of the mandatory kit list.

Respect The Trails & Follow The Rules

Always be mindful of walkers, runners, cyclists, dogs, and even horse riders. Be courteous to others and be friendly as well. Stay on the marked trails and stick to the signs.

Above all else, DO NOT litter on the trails. We live in a beautiful and wonderful world so let’s keep it that way.

One of the biggest issues that race organizers have is the mess that is left behind when a trail race is over. I have seen races canceled for future events because people didn’t respect the environment. Keep your litter on you until you find a suitable bin to put it in.

Listen To Your Body

If you haven’t run on trails before then your body is going to feel it. Running the trails is so much harder than on the roads and you will be using muscles you didn’t realize you had.

You will be going up and down hills, ankles will be rolling over some rough ground and you will be using your upper body and core to keep your balance and stability. Your body will feel this so make sure you rest and don’t go off doing too many runs straight away.

Do Some Strength Work

As trail running involves new muscles and exertions, it’s worth considering some strength training activity once or twice a week for 20 to 30 minutes.

Try some lunges, squats, deadlifts, push-ups and core exercises. Get yourself stronger and you will notice the benefit on the longer trail runs believe me. You want strong legs for those hills.

Walk The Steep Hills

trail running tips for beginners

You don’t need to be a hero on the hills believe me. It’s better to walk at pace and conserve energy than to try and run and tire yourself out. Even the best runners walk some of the hills.

When I ran the Snowdonia trail marathon I walked the steep hills. Other people were running them. However, I was walking almost as fast as they were trying to run but I was conserving energy. When we got to the top I would start to run, they were tired out. Guess who finished the race first?

There are no rules out on the trails that say you have to run hills. Use your head, save your energy for running downhill and on the flat areas.

No Trail Is The Same

This is a good thing right. No matter the trail, it will always be different than the last. The terrain, the views, the difficulty.

This is why running the trails is so much better than being on the road. You can never get the same feeling as you do when you are out in nature just enjoying your run and surroundings.

Work On Your Running Technique

As I have stated multiple times in this post, running trails are different from the roads. This will also mean you need to adjust your running technique a little due to the varied surfaces.

Ideally, you should shorten your stride and keep yourself under control and balanced. Also, keep scanning the trail for obstacles – as I said before, there are plenty of trip hazards so you need to assess your foot placement before you actually do it.

Also, swing your arms as this will help to relax you whilst you are running. You don’t want to be rigid on some of the terrains. Relax and go with the flow.

Look After Your Health

If you are going to be out there for a period of time on a warm sunny day then make sure you have sun cream, a hat and probably sunglasses. You need to ensure you are protecting yourself. It can be quite surprising how quickly you can get burnt and really feel the heat when you are up and down hills for a few hours. Always better to be safe than sorry.

Conclusion

For me, there is nothing better than getting myself out on the trails for a few hours and just enjoying what our world has to offer. It is like no other feeling for me as it gives me time to think and really relax whilst taking in some breathtaking views.

If you ever do a trail race you will also come to understand just what a great community of trail runners there is. It cannot be compared to running a road race that’s for sure.

Let me know in the comments if you have any tips that weren’t mentioned in the post. I would really love to hear from you.

Until then, happy trails.

All the best,

Mark.

14 thoughts on “Trail Running Tips For Beginners”

  1. Lots of great advice here, Mark. Especially important is to tell someone where you’re going. I was caught out with heat stroke once. It was November and not even a hot day, but I hadn’t taken in enough fluids before my run and I ended up very de-hydrated. It would have cost me my life had I not had a run buddy with me because he was the only person who knew where I was going. Also, I’ve got a bit of a weak ankle as a result of an historic injury and I’ve always preferred running military style boots. What are your thoughts on that?

    Reply
  2. Lots of great advice here, Mark. Especially in regards to letting someone know where you are and of course, taking in enough fluids. I got caught out with heatstroke once and it was in November so it wasn’t even a hot day. I just hadn’t taken in enough fluids before the run and it may well have cost me my life had I not had a run buddy with me, as he was the only person who knew where I was going and what I was doing. With regards to running kit, I’ve got a weak ankle due to an historic injury and I tend to favour military style boots to run in. What are your thoughts on that?

    Reply
    • Hi Richard, thank you very much for the great comments. I know where you are coming from with the heatstroke and fluids. I did a couple of trail marathons last year during the UK heatwave and saw so many people getting into problems because they didn’t take enough fluids on board. That was with aid stations as well. I really think that the dehydration can creep up on you if you aren’t careful. During one of the races, I must have drunk at least 5 litres of fluid and didn’t go to the toilet once during the 6-hour race. That just goes to show how dehydrated you can become.

      It’s interesting to hear about your weak ankles. I know many people suffer from this type of injury and of course, it would be quite easy to turn an ankle on some of the more technical trails. I think some of the shoe companies have cottoned on to this and some manufacturers like Inov-8 and Altra are making boot type trail shoes help protect the ankles. If you’re interested, here is a link to the type of shoe I’m talking about (non-affiliated).

      https://www.sidetracked.com/fi

      They also double up as walking boots but are more than light enough to run in as well. I have seen a few people wearing this type of shoe on some of my trail races.

      Hope this helps,

      Mark.

      Reply
  3. Hi Mark, what an inspirational post. Interesting that you mentioned about letting someone know when you’re running. Have you heard about the ICE ID Tags for runners? I believe they are a great solution.

    I’ve always been a bit concerned about running on trails rather than the road, thinking it was harder on the body.  I was worried I would be more prone to injuries.  After reading your post, I’m very keen to run my first trail.  

    I live really close to the beach so I was thinking of starting by running on the beach or along the pathway in the dunes. Would the beach running be a good training ground?  Do you ever run barefoot?

    Thanks for the brilliant advice about walking uphill instead of running, that really hit home. 

    Reply
    • Hi Lauren, thanks for the great comments. That’s a very good shout on the ICE ID Tags. I have seen them a lot but didn’t actually think about them from a runners perspective, so I have learnt something new today thank you.

      I’ve always found running on the trails so much better for my body in general. Yes, you use new muscles and it can be tough on some of the runs. However, knee joints and the like tend to not take the pounding that they would on the tarmac. I do of course run on roads as well as part of my training, but try to avoid long ones or races as, to be honest, I just find it so boring too.

      Running on the sand and the beach is great. Of course, it depends on the sand. I have run down plenty of beaches where the sand is hard packed and it’s lovely. I’ve also run on soft sand and boy, that is a workout and a half. Really difficult but great all the same.

      I have dabbled with a bit of barefoot running in the past, but unfortunately, I have suffered recently with Plantar Fasciitis so I need a bit of arch support currently. But I must say that running down a beach barefoot is a wonderful experience.

      Many thanks for your wonderful comments,

      Mark.

      Reply
  4. Thanks so much for these tips. Seriously, telling people about where you are trail running to is a great deal and should be taking seriously as it’s capable of saving life. I once went on a trail run and I got injured badly and unluckily for me, I could call home due to bad network. It was when a first aid team arrived almost 5hours later that I realised it was my partner that had gone to report about me not coming back as planned. Thanks for sharing all these helpful tips. 

    Reply
  5. A very good topic. Much information about how to do, what to wear. I myself only running on asphalt and softer materials, but I know that a proper pair of shoes is a must when you are running. Your knee, hip and foot joints will take some hard hits if you are not wearing proper footwear. 

    Reply
  6. hello Mark

    I always thinking about trail running, but i haven’t take the first step, i’m afraid that i’m not good enough of it, but when i read this post, honestly you give me some confidence to do it, lots of good advice that i really like, i think tell someone where you are going is important, because you never know what’s gonna happen on the way of trail running, if accident happen on you, at least your friends know where you are, and use the apps to show your location i think it’s really brilliant, i never thought of that, thanks again it’s really a good article.

    Reply
  7. Hey there!
    What a nice article you write about trail running. You really did a nice a job. I appreciate with you. Actually I’ve a bad experience with trail running.
    Last 2 years ago I’m also going to for a trail running.
    But I don’t take any bandes, painkiller, drink. I choose a forest near my hometown. At the 6.00 pm i’m going to for the trail running.
    After 4 hours i become so tired and hopeless. Becaues nobody with me in this forest. I don’t take much food. So, i have no idea what can i do!
    The mobile network also disable in the forest. I started run again and i’m getting injury very badly. I’m so much hungry and i become senseless.
    After some hours I open my eye and i see i’m in a hospital.

    From this experience i don’t go for a trail running without any preparation.
    Anything you want say that about my experience?

    Reply
    • Hi, thanks for the comments and feedback. In terms of your experience, I think you have learned a valuable lesson. If you are going out somewhere new for a long period you need to be prepared. I always think about where it is I am going and what I will need if it is somewhere new. Often I probably take more gear than I actually need, but at least it is better than not taking enough.

      Regards,

      Mark

      Reply
  8. I am not a runner, never have been.  I have always been really uncomfortable running.  Maybe I don’t do it right.  Maybe the first running tip I have to try is to swing my arms more, I feel like a stiff heavy block of meat when running, maybe this technique will help me to relax my whole body.  I’ll try, I will.    

    I never thought I’d look into trail running at all until my son who is 9 started with a love of running.  It started on the road, now he wants to do trail running too.  Which according to you is a good idea.  I have no idea about running gear or anything else.  Your tips and advice on your post helped me immensely today.  Thank you so much.  

    After school today, your post will be studied in depth by him as well, and then we have a great start for trail running. From running shoes to running techniques, you have it all.  Thank you for this great informative post.  

    Reply
    • Hi Marlene, thank you for the great comments. Do you know, when I first started I wasn’t really comfortable with running? What I did initially was doing walking with a bit of running in between. It is surprising how fit you can get with this method. I did an ultramarathon last year where there was a gentleman in his 70’s that walked for the entire 86 miles at pace – he actually beat a lot of the guys who were running. This was because he had a consistent pace whereas the runners were tiring out and the average pace over the race was slower.

      I really do hope this post has offered some insight for your son.

      Many thanks,

      Mark.

      Reply
  9. These are some great tips and I have to say that I am guilty of not following all these when I run on trails especially the part of walking of steep hills. I always feel if I stop to walk while running means that I am not properly exercising. I always like to tire out myself while running and whenever I run on hills I always make sure to keep running and stop for any reason even though I tire out. Running on hills takes a huge toll on me and makes me become extremely tired. 

    I guess I have to follow your advise and walk on them rather than run whenever I approach hills. Quick question, it is ok if I walk really fast on hills or do you suggest just walking a bit slow on them?

    Reply
    • Hi Jay, many thanks for the great feedback. I’m glad the post offered you some insight.

      When it comes to walking steep hills, just consider that even the best athletes do this at times. When you are on really long runs, especially Ultras, it’s important to conserve energy as best as you can. Running to exhaustion isn’t always the best thing to do. You should mix things up.

      In terms of the speed of walking up the hills, I always try to walk at a reasonable pace but that’s up to the individual. As long as your moving forward you are progressing and that is what’s important.

      Cheers,

      Mark.

      Reply

Leave a Comment