Trail Running For Beginners

Trail Running For Beginners

Keen to get into running off-road? Here’s how to start.

In many ways trail running is a completely different sport to road running. There are similarities of course, but when you’re off-road, pacing and mile splits tend to go out the window as you focus on tackling rugged terrain and exploring beautiful places. Trail running also has the potential to lift the spirits in a way that chugging along the pavement near your house struggles to do.

It’s a little trickier to get into than road running, but with a bit of planning you’ll find that there might be a host of great trail running spots far nearer to you than you think.  Read on for wise words from British ultramarathon runner and The North Face ambassador Jez Bragg about how to get into trail running.

Do you need trail-specific shoes for off-road running?

In the summer, no, but you do in the winter when you have to deal with cold and wet conditions. You want something that’s cushioned with good grip on all different types of surfaces. It has to have wicking properties – to keep water out and let vapour out – and be light too, because you’ll really feel the extra weight if you’re covering any real distance. You should also carry a small rucksack or hydration pack. Put a spare waterproof, base layer, map, food, drink and mobile phone in it so you can cope with changing weather and getting lost or injured.

Should you change your running style on treacherous trails?

Aim to look about 6-10m ahead so you have time to adjust your speed or change direction. It takes a bit of getting used to but having to focus on finding the smoothest, most direct route takes your mind off running and some of the pain you’re enduring.

What’s the best way to tackle hills?

When climbing, shorten your stride, lean forwards and settle into a steady rhythm. Depending on how steep the hill is, you will probably find it more comfortable to run up it on your toes. When running down a hill you’ll be moving faster so look a few metres further ahead than if you were on the flat. This will help you pick the right line. Avoid slowing down because it’ll tire you and sprinting because it can stretch your quads to the point of injury. Try to relax and let the gradient of the hill turn your legs over – you’ll know when you’re moving at the right speed because you’ll be exerting the minimum amount of effort.

Can you train for trails without actually running on them?

You need good core and lower leg strength to help your body withstand the rigours of running across rough and uneven terrain and you can build this in the gym doing moves, such as planks and weighted lunges. Ankle strength is also key but is something that can only be developed through running. Hills are a big part of trail running so you also need to include hill work in your runs. Don’t worry if you need to walk the hills to start with – it will still help you build up solid leg strength.

Written by Nick Hutchings for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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August 19, 2019