How to Start Trail Running: 5 Tips for Transitioning to Trails

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How exactly do you start trail running? If you’re feeling intimidated by the trail scene and you’re not so sure about how to deal with rocks, ruts and roots not to worry! Even if the terrain seems a little daunting the trail running community is a supportive one, so you’re sure to find a friend. Here are a few things that have helped me find success and more importantly have fun trail racing:

Effort Counts

One of the things that I love about trail running is that the focus is more running "by feel" rather than pace-focused running. Instead of making goals around specific race times, trail running allows you to focus on your effort in the moment and for me, thinking about each step as opposed to glancing at my watch for specific paces is a lot more enjoyable.



Unless you’re on “buttery smooth” single track, chances are you might encounter some technical terrain. Staying nibble and light over rocks and roots can mean the difference between running smoothly and tripping or falling. Footwork drills can be helpful in keeping you upright on tough terrain. Here are a few drills I do regularly:

  • Toe Taps: Standing in front of a low step (or if you're outside in the driveway while your kids ride their bikes the hub cap of your car tire works too;) Alternate taping the toe of your foot on the step edge. Preform 50-100 reps, 2-3 times.

  • High Knees : In rapid succession, alternate lifting your knees up, to hip-height. Pump arms to keep balance. Preform 50-100 reps, 2-3 times.

  • Butt Kicks: Alternate kicking you heel to your backside. Repeat rapidly, pumping arms for balance.Preform 50-100 reps, 2-3 times.

Core strength

The demands of trail running are different than road running, since you're moving across multiple planes. There's linear and lateral motion and all that movement requires a strong core to remain balanced and prevent injury. You have to go beyond typical crunches and really focus on the deeper muscle layers, here’s a few moves that will help you do that:

  • Dead Bugs: Laying on your back, alternate lowering opposite leg and arm. Keeping your pelvic floor engaged and drawn up, belly button pressed towards the floor and pelvis in neutral.

  • Side Plank with Arm Raise: In a side plank position (modify to knees if necessary), raise and lower your top arm in a fly position, bringing it down across your body towards the floor and then back up, perpendicular to the body.

  • Roller Balance with alternating leg lifts: Using a long foam roller, balance with your lower back pressed towards the roller, pelvic floor engaged and drawn up. Balance on the roller while alternating raising and lowering one leg at a time. Use hands for balance.


If you can get more comfortable on pushing the downhill, you'll find yourself at an advantage when it comes to racing. Practice downhill running both on the roads and the trail. Downhill repeats on the road can help improve foot turnover and develop durability in your soft tissue. Downhill running on the trails will help you become more comfortable moving quickly over rocks, roots and loose gravel. Timothy Olson, decorated ultra runner and record holder at Western States, says that he imagines himself water as he runs downhill and takes the "path of least resistance."


Gear Tips

If you're making the transition to the trails you'll definitely want to invest in a good pair of trail shoes. Consider the terrain you'll be running on: for more technical terrain you'll want a pair of shoes with aggressive lugs, less technical terrain and you can get by with a road/trail cross-over shoe.

  • SHOES: There's a multitude of shoes out there to choose from, to find the one that is best for you head to your local specialty store and get fitted for a good match.

  • APPAREL: As for clothing, apparel that dries quickly will be more comfortable, especially when it comes to your socks.

  • HYDRATION: When it comes to hydration packs, I've been using the Ultra Vesta from Ultimate Directions Jenny Collection. It's a great pack and worth the investment. You can check out my full review HERE.

How to start trail running-getting the right gear

Looking for a great trail race? I’m helping put together a local trail race on June 1st in benefit of the Moose Mountains Regional Greenways. This 10K race is great for beginners! Check it out HERE.

If you're thinking this is the year try your luck at trail running, I say go for it!

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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com

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