Whatever type of runner you are – fast, slow, frequent or sporadic – you’ll never regret leaving the road and turning to the trails for your running endorphin hit. Although trail running is best enjoyed when you have reached a level of fitness where you think nothing of running for a couple of hours plus, the trails are there to be explored and enjoyed by runners of all abilities.
Naturally there are similarities to conventional road running, but you’d be amazed at how just a few specific training and injury prevention tips can enhance your enjoyment of running on remote trail routes, so here are 5 top tips on how to make the (temporary or permanent) switch from road running to the trails.
Most of you will know of a forest trail, bridle path or foothill nearby where you can begin experimenting with trail running, but even on familiar routes close to home it is essential you plan your route and tell someone how long you think you’ll take.
With an abundance of tree roots, rocky ledges and steep embankments, there are a wide range of potential ankle tuning hazards out on the trails which could leave you unable to run and in need of help. So, tell someone where you’re going and how long you’re likely to be! It’s strongly advised you also take a mobile phone with you in case you need to call for help.
Taking up a new challenge and learning it on the hop can often be a daunting experience, so there’s no reason why you need go it alone. The transition can be far more fun and exciting if you go through the experience with friends, so why not recruit a few chums to hit the trails with you?
The safety aspect of training with one or more people speaks for itself; if one of you is wiped out by an errant tree stump, low blood sugar or general fatigue, then help is close at hand to see you back home safely.
However, as important as safety is, it’s the banter of training in a group that is perhaps the most compelling reason to convince friends to join you in your trail running exploits.
Running with a friend can make even the most innocuous experience last a lifetime; after all, falling flat on your face in a bog isn’t remotely funny when you’re on your own, but your running buddy will certainly see the funny side and no doubt tell an exaggerated version of the story for many years to come.
Unless you live in a climate which sees the mercury consistently in the high 20s (70°F+) throughout the year, chances are that many of your first trail runs will not be across great distances, so you won’t need to take much, or any, additional fluid with you.
However, although you might not always need extra fluid while training, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of running with fluid because as you get more proficient and the time you spend on the trails increases, you’ll need to carry at least a litre of fluid with you on every run. So for the purposes of safety and practice, try to make a point of carrying at least 500–1,000ml of fluid with you on every training run.
For all the feel-good endorphins that a fast 10k/half marathon road race can give you, nothing will be able to get close to the feeling you get running through stunning off-road scenery, so enjoy it and absorb it! To get the most out of trails, try not to obsess about the distance you cover (as you would on the road) but instead focus on time spent running – so leave your Garmin at home!
You might find your first few runs frustrating as you mourn the absence of your Polar/Garmin GPS watch (which often don’t work on dense forest trails), but the stunning trails more than make up for the (lack of) view of your mile splits on your GPS watch.
Although you’ll spend a certain amount of time fixated on the route ahead so as to successfully navigate around foliage, tree stumps, muddy bogs and rocks, there will be times when the landscape will open up to a view that will take your breath away. Absorb it and reflect upon it.