How To Get Started In Trail Running

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Tired of your same old running route? Break out of the mundane with some good old fashioned trail running.

When running on the road it’s easy to zone out and not think about the act of running. It can get mentally boring at times and the mind tries to find some outlet. Many people like to listen to music to help pass the miles more quickly. On the trail the mind has to be as engaged as the body.

Dr. Jerry Lynch is a psychologist and author who actually prescribes trail running to his patients who suffer from depression. He has this to say about the benefits of trail running,

Trails just have a way of closing off the rest of the world and all of the chaos. I’ve had several patients over the years who were depressed and taking medication and it wasn’t working. I steered them toward trail running and they became more at peace with themselves and found joy. – Jerry Lynch

Trevor and I currently live in a very flat area and we don’t have ready access to many trails. However, I usually pick a quiet gravel country road to run on over a busy, paved road any day. Someday I hope to live near the mountains again and have access to a variety of running options.

If trail running sounds like something you’d like to try, let’s talk about how it is different than road running and what you need to know to get started.

How to Get Into Trail Running . . .

  • Start with smoother less technical trails at first. This will help you to get over the fear factor. Tread lightly and try to use a quick cadence and gait and expend even energy (taking it easier on up hills). As you build fitness you may even need to slow your pace and walk some sections.

    “The race continued as I hammered up the trail, passing rocks and trees as if they were standing still.” Red Fisher, Wasatch ’86

  • Think about posture. Keep your spine long and lengthened and your pelvis neutral (don’t arch your back and stick your rear out and don’t keep it tucked forward). Two important components of trail running include having a strong core and good balance.
  • Relax– don’t run stiffly; keep your arms slightly raised and away from your sides to help with balance, but don’t tighten up your upper body.
  • Shorten your stride and keep your eyes on the trail a few steps ahead to read upcoming obstacles.

Special Gear for Trail Running . . .

  • Trail maps
  • Trail running shoes with traction, cushioning, and support
  • Watch (with altimeter and compass)
  • Hydration pack (like the Camelbak) with sufficient fluid
  • Light rain shell
  • Tiny head lamp
  • Energy bars, gels, trail mix
  • Cell phone (if you are in the coverage area)
  • ID and credit card
  • Bug spray (Trevor got chiggars last time he was out in nature -Ouch!)

How to Find New Running Trails. . .

Plug in your destination on Google Maps and look for road-less areas, parks, and lakes. Link up to online trail sites that have topographical maps and reviews like , and Or you can find a local group for running partners Road Runners Club

Some other ideas for finding new trails would be asking at your local bike store. Mountain bikers often find new routes and have maps and local knowledge. Look for dead end country roads. Find a road that stops at the edge of a forest or open area and you’ll often find trails. Just make sure that you’re not trespassing. Head for water. In urban areas there are often walking paths and game trails near water.

Also Mentioned in the Episode

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9 Responses to How To Get Started In Trail Running

  1. Trevor July 19, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    Talking about trails makes me wish I lived near the mountains again.

    Are there any good trails where you live?

  2. Rachael July 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    We live in the flat but pretty Cambridgeshire countryside in England. We like to travel up to The Lake District and take part in the Lakeland trail races and challenges throughout the year. There are mini races for the children and lots of fun family activities. My husband recently completed the Coniston Marathon on a baking hot July morning. I am running 16km in Keswick in September. The trails are varied through woods, fields, cinder tracks over looking lakes and valleys. The scenery makes me smile and the course is so varied it keeps me going even when I feel like quitting!

    • Angie July 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      Sounds amazing! When can I come visit? 🙂 Congratulations to your husband with his recent marathon finish. I’m glad that you are making running a family activity!

  3. Amy July 20, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Thanks for covering trail running! I just ran my second trail marathon on Saturday in Duluth, Minnesota called the Half Voyageur (half of the Voyageur-50 miler). It’s an awesome race and had beautiful scenery… The other runners were really nice and helpful for a rookie like me AND they had cookies at the aid stations. I ended up taking 3rd for the women and 28th out of 157 runners – all in all, a good day 🙂

    I really enjoy running on technical terrain, it helps my mind to escape and just enjoy the trails. I’ve found alternating road and trail marathons keeps me from burning out – it never gets old!

    • Angie July 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Amy,
      Congratulations on finishing 3rd in your recent trail marathon. It sounds like a wonderful race. Trail runners (and road runners too) are generally a great bunch of people who are more than willing to help out a newbie. Keep up the awesome work!

  4. Rusty July 21, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    How funny, my family Just watched 127, extreme trail running.

    Great podcast.


    • Angie July 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

      Hey Rusty, I’m glad that you enjoyed the podcast. 127 Hours is a pretty intense movie. The cool thing is that the experience Aron Ralston went through hasn’t kept him from continuing to live a life full of adventure.

  5. Seth Van Heukelom August 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Quick shameless plug on trail running. 1st Annual 13.1 trail run in Kirksville, Missouri on Saturday, October 22. Starts in the local state park and ends at a winery. Should be fun for those in Northern Missouri. Thanks for all the great info, Trevor and Angie.

    • Angie August 10, 2011 at 10:26 am #

      Hey Seth. Sounds like a great race. I hope it goes really well. If we weren’t doing the St. Louis Rock & Roll Marathon the next day I’d be tempted to drive up and give it a try.

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