There are three types of people who are most likely thinking about how to get into trail running. The first is the dedicated road runner looking for something different, the second is the non-runner looking to start running and focusing on or just incorporating some trail, and the third is the ex-runner looking to start up again. The great news is that the advice to all is exactly the same. As the famous brand said, Just Do It.
Running is unique amongst all sporting disciplines in that it is the one movement that comes completely naturally to all healthy human beings almost from birth. Yes, you can adjust your style and improve your form and become a better runner, but at its most elemental you don’t need kit, you don’t need equipment, you don’t need to learn how to do it; from a couple of years old, you can just do it.
How this translates into getting into trail running is simple. Find a trail and run.
Different types of trail?
What kind of trail, you may ask? It doesn’t really matter. There are many different types of trail: rocky, sandy, muddy, technical, hilly, climbing and more, and obviously the more one practises on any given one the better one gets at running it. The trick that many people do not realise is that running on ANY type of trail makes you a better trail runner on ALL trails.
What makes a “trail”?
It’s not a road.
The single biggest difference between trail and road is that on trail you can’t close your eyes and just assume that your next step will be ok. Getting used to being aware of the ground ahead of you is possibly the single most important skill you can learn as a trail runner. Interestingly this is fairly easy when the trail is very technical or even dangerous: running on a very rocky trail or along a cliff does wonders for concentration. It’s often the flatter, less challenging trails that lull runners into letting their guards down and where accidents happen. What this means here is that you don’t need to find a mountain or a cliff to practise; hit your nearest park or even golf course and just work on getting used to not taking the ground ahead of you for granted.
Forget about pace, distance and what other people think!
Don’t ever feel like it’s “not worth it” to run shorter distances or slower times. Trail running is not road running, and more often than not it’s physically harder. How much harder? That depends completely on any number of variables, so don’t try and manufacture any kind of comparison. Just get out and run. 3km, 5km, 10km? It all counts. The important thing is to have fun.
Yes, that statement can actually be a question. There is a “barefoot” phenomenon in trail running where people run in sandals and some even run “naked” (bare feet). Running shoes remain our default
recommendation, however, even for experienced and talented trail runners. That being said, don’t stress about specialist trail shoes, especially when starting up off the couch or switching over from the road. The right shoes do make a difference but at this stage all they have to do for you is fit properly. Put on your shoes and run.
Maps & Navigation
Not a necessity at this early stage but highly recommended. Not because you’re going to get lost at your local park or golf course, but because this is one of the funnest aspects of trail running. The sooner you get into it the better. If you’re a long-time roadie getting into some trail, you probably have some kind of GPS device already, but it’s not at all a must-have. All smart phones today have GPS and tracking capabilities. Just download free apps like Strava, Map My Run, Windy Maps or countless others and start making your own tracks around the world!
Yes you read that right. Getting lost is a fundamental aspect of running trails. Remember, it’s not the “getting lost” that makes or breaks a run (or even a race) per se, it’s how you deal with it. Learn to embrace it early and turn it into a skill.
Corporate refugees will remember this fondly (or otherwise). A Big Hairy Audacious Goal! Pick a race, one that feels out there and beyond your current horizon and set it as your goal. This pulls it all together and makes it real like nothing else can. Pick a race that you are not actually sure you can do. Before you know it you’ll have done it, and will be looking forward to the next one. The one thing you can consistently expect is that you will surprise yourself.
Just Do It!