14 July 2020

The Complete Guide to Starting Trail Running

November 22, 2016
Trail Running 1

For runners who’ve had no experience of trail running but want to give it a go, this guide explains what it is, why it is so popular, how to get started and how to train for your first trail race.

Trail Running 1

What is trail running?

Trail running can be neatly described as running on any kind of off-road i.e. not on paved tarmac. Natural trail running terrain includes grassland, rolling hills, stretches of beach, woodlands and mountain trails.

Why should I start trail running?

Variety: Many runners turn to trails when they become fed up with pounding the same long stretches of road. As well as offering a new and interesting natural environment from your normal route, trail runs change spectacularly every day you run them thanks to the impact different weather and light has on the great outdoors.

Physical improvements: Trail running provides your body with a new physical challenge, developing your core balance muscles, conditioning your inner and other thigh muscles and strengthening your feet and ankles. Your endurance and stamina will build quickly as a hilly trail run is as good as (if not better) than hill training and it comes without the monotony of hill repeats. Softer terrain means less injury through impact, resulting in stronger quadriceps, hip flexors and gluteus muscles.

Mental benefits: A survey of 4,904 runners recently revealed that 88% of trail runners find that trail running helps to combat negative emotions, with the majority finding that it helps to release ‘stress’ and ‘melancholy’. Trail running improves your mindfulness, as health psychologist Dr Eric Brymer explains “When trail running, you’re fully attuned to your natural environment – the surface is uneven and you’re not sure what is round the corner – you’re paying attention to what is going on ‘now’. Being fully present in this way means that you are automatically in a mindful state when trail running”.

Green exercise: Trail running is considered ‘green exercise’, as it takes place in a natural environment. Connecting with nature has been proven to have a whole heap of benefits, from helping your body produce more virus and tumour fighting white blood cells and giving your brain a break from overstimulation in an ever-increasing digital world, to helping you be more creative.

Trail Running 2

How do I start trail running?

  • There are a few things to be mentally prepared for before you start trail running. Firstly, trails are harder work than roads. You are likely to find that when you start you can’t cover the same distances on trails in the same times as your tarmac runs.
  • Accept that it will take time to grow your physical and mental strength for trail running. If you find a particular hill or stretch too hard, stay focused and try and avoid grinding to a complete stop. Catch yourself before you burn out and reduce your pace to a brisk walk to recover.
  • Avoid injury – you need to go slower to avoid spraining or straining yourself on the uneven ground. At first embrace a conservative pace, even if you are a confident road runner.
  • A good way to start getting used to softer and uneven terrain is to simply step off the tarmac on your usual run. If you run through parks or alongside fields, start incorporating stretches of running off the paved path. Try and include as much varied terrain as your route offers you – hills, mud, woodland, just go for it.
  • Your first ‘proper’ trail run should be a gentle one. Plan your route beforehand with a tried and tested running map app. (Strava is very popular with trail runners!)
  • When running up and down hills try to keep your pace consistent, especially if you’re heading out for a longer run. Try not to expend too much energy grinding up inclines; it’s important to keep your pace even. Same goes for downhill sections, it’s tempting to let gravity take you and fly down descents, but ease up, slow your pace and stay safe.
  • Whilst some runners prefer to run solo, there are plenty of clubs and groups you can join to find out the best local trail routes in your area. The Trailzilla website is fantastic tool for finding trails local to you.

The Women’s Sports Magazine




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