Trail Running 101


Trail running is an excellent way to get in an intense workout while incorporating nature. It is a great alternative to road running. Not only is it a great for cardio, but it is also good for building endurance, strength, and agility… and who doesn’t like great scenery and fresh air while doing so? For one, it adds difficulty to your typical run with fluctuating elevation and natural obstacles, but also the surface is softer than concrete so it has less impact on your joints and with the varying terrain, you increase your speed and strength. For those of you just starting or new to trail running, here are a few tips and recommendations for when you decide to get out on a trail!

Let’s Get Started!

  • Research the trail.  Every trail is different so it is important to get an idea of what to expect, especially if it’s your first time trail running. Some resources like AllTrails and Tennessee State Park finder websites offer a trail finder so that you can find the right trail for you in your area! Find a map and study what the trail looks like, how long it is, where it goes through, and what other trails it connects to.
  • Determine length (by distance or time). If this is your first trail run, prepare to tire quicker than your normal run. While you might be used to running on the track or paved road, trail running adds terrain and potential obstacles like mud, roots, rocks, and fluctuating elevation. This adds more difficulty than what you might be used to, so consider opting for a trail with shorter distance to get the feel of it first! You could also consider running for time instead of distance at first so that you can further assess how you feel at a certain distance on the trail. This will allow you to determine what kind of pace you would like to keep vs the distance traveled.
  • Send someone the deets. Run with a partner, group, dog, or at the very least, let someone know that you will be going on a trail run. Let them know how long you plan on being on the trail or when you plan on being finished. Make sure to bring your phone, especially if you are alone, just in case something happens, you can call for help.
  • But what should I wear? Wearing your usual running clothes (preferably moisture-wicking material) will work just fine for trail running, but be prepared to possibly get them dirty just in case. As for your shoes, as a beginner, you will want to have something with good tread. After your first few trail runs, if you decide you would like to continue, then you should invest in some trail running shoes. They are typically a little beefier, with more tread than the normal running shoe, giving it more stability and protection. You also should consider wearing an insect repellent and even sunscreen if you know that a portion of the trail is uncovered and in the open.
  • What should I bring? What you bring really depends on how long you plan your trail run to be. If you plan on being out an hour/hour and a half, at the very least, bring water. It is always handy to carry a small, lightweight first aid kid or pocketknife.  If you are planning on going for a few hours, you should take a small bag or waist-pack to carry some water (whether it be handheld, hydration pack, etc.), small first aid kit, snack (granola bar, gels, chews, etc), and map of the trail.
  • Warm up before going on the run. Listen to your body and prevent injuries! Before going for your run you can warm up by doing some arm circles, leg swings, walk around on your toes (wake up those Achilles), hop in place, walking lunges, heel to butt, knee to chest, and start off with a jog.
  • Take it step by step. If you feel uncomfortable running uphill, through mud, or across rocks, don’t be afraid to just walk through it. You will build confidence the more you are out running the trails and this will take time! It can also be very tempting to look around at the beautiful nature surrounding you; however, it is important to keep your eyes on the trail. You will be in the wild so keeping an eye out for roots, sudden drops, or even snakes will be very important to avoid injury! That being said, it is best to look about 10ft in front of you, instead of straight down, that way you will see what is coming.
  • Trail Etiquette: only run on designated trails;  respect wildlife – do not disturb animals or nature; don’t litter – if you brought it in, you can bring it out; share the trail – when coming up on someone, make sure to let them know you are there by saying something like “on your left” or “hello” so that you do not startle them; if coming across a biker or horseback rider, the hiker yields to them; the uphill hiker has the right away vs. the downhill hiker;  keep your dog on a leash unless the area allows unleashed dogs;
  • Safety tips: always follow proper trail etiquette and park guidelines to avoid injury or getting lost; know what the dangers are in your area; learn about bear safety; know what to expect when encountering a snake and snake safety; wear bright colors if it is hunting season; Know your limits – if you need a break, take a break;  always check the weather radar; always carry more water than you think you need

Remember, go at your own pace. It might take a few runs to get your routine down on how far you want to go, how intense, what to bring, or what shoes to wear, but all you need to do is START! And most importantly, have fun and stay safe on the trails!

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