Trail running is rapidly growing in popularity in the U.S. Just 10 years ago, however, fewer than 5 million people enjoyed the sport. By 2017, that number had topped 9 million.

With a low-cost approach compared to other sports — and accessibility that makes it easy for just about anyone to enjoy — trail running is a great way to get in a solid workout and breath of fresh air. If you’re ready to give it a try, keep reading to learn the basics of trail running you’ll need to know first.

Get the Right Gear

Before you can hit the trails, you’ll need the right gear. In particular, one of the most important items you’ll need is a hydration pack. Unlike running on a track or in a city where you may have frequent access to water or can leave your bottle and circle back to it, on a trail, there are no water sources. 

For shorter runs, you might be able to carry a bottle or wear a waist pack. But for lengthier trails, a hydration pack that fits you comfortably and doesn’t bounce around is a must. Other important gear for trail running includes:

  • A first-aid kit that fits in your hydration pack
  • A handheld GPS or map and compass to keep you from getting lost on the trails
  • A headlamp for running after dark
  • Sunscreen and bug spray

Dress for Success

Just as with any type of running, the right clothing will help keep you cool in the summer and wick away sweat to keep you warm in cooler temperatures. On the trails, this is even more important. Far away from any kind of cover, you need clothes that will protect you from the elements without getting in the way of your stride. 

While you can layer tops to achieve this, the perfect trail-running shorts are close-fitting, lightweight and act as a barrier against wind and rain. Your road running shoes won’t quite make the cut. Instead, you’ll need a pair of shoes designed for trail running, with gripping bottoms to keep you from slipping on rocks or wet surfaces.

Start Small

When you start thinking about trail running, you likely picture stunning backcountry trails with beautiful views. But like with any sport, trail running takes practice. 

Start with shorter, less rugged trails. Even if you’re already an experienced runner, on uneven trails it’s harder to keep your balance and reach your usual speeds. You’ll tire more quickly than you would on flat, paved routes as well.

Run with a Friend

Before you head off on unfamiliar, rugged trails on your own without any experience, consider bringing a friend along. Not only is it more enjoyable to take in the views with a companion, but you’ll also have help if something goes wrong. 

Choose a friend who has a similar experience level as you or one who’s willing to slow it down while you get into your stride. After all, the last thing you want is to overdo it while you’re still learning. Don’t have a friend who’s up for trail running? Then look for local running clubs to find a few trail companions.

Master Your Technique Early

You don’t need to master the sport right away, but learning the right techniques from the start will help prevent injuries and set you up for future success. To start, keep your stride short and your feet underneath you, which will help you maintain balance on uneven surfaces. Swinging your arms will also help with this. 

When you’re running downhill or climbing a steep grade, it can be tempting to hunch over to maintain your balance. But doing so will obstruct your breathing, so it’s important to keep your back as straight as possible. Watch the trail in front of you, but don’t stare straight down at your feet, as this will cause you to stumble. Looking at least 10 feet ahead of you will help you plan for scaling obstacles.

Getting Started Trail Running

Trail running is a great way to break free from your regular daily run and catch a breath of fresh air. And with the right gear, you can start enjoying your new sport with ease, knowing that you’re safe and secure on the trails.

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