top of page

12 Trail Running Tips for Beginners


Empty dirt road through a mountain valley

LOOKING TO GET INTO TRAIL RUNNING? WONDERFUL! HERE ARE 12 INSIGHTFUL AND TESTED TRAIL RUNNING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS TO HELP YOU LOVE IT FROM THE START.

 



Have you ever been hiking on a beautiful scenic trail, say in the mountains, and suddenly been passed by some sweaty human going triple the speed as you? While you might think that person is possibly running from some animal, or worse, they are crazy enough to actually want to run up a mountain, in truth, trail running is not as weird as you might think. In fact, the sport of trail running - which is exactly what it sounds like - has been growing in popularity year over year.


Trail running is actually one of the best ways to workout, and (in our opinion) one of the most rewarding and fun ways to work up a sweat. Plus, it has some serious perks; including, the fact that you use more muscles trail running verse road running (including your core, ankles and feet), that you lower your overall risk of injury - including the very common running injury known as shin splints, that you will likely be less anxious and stressed in your day-to-day life (nature-based activities have been known to help lower both your stress and anxiety and also help you get out of a negative thought spiral), and finally, trail running is thought to help you live longer (according to a Harvard study, being out in nature more often helps boost longevity). Plus, and this is really important, trail running is often a whole lot of fun - especially if you don't take it too seriously and instead look at it as one big adventure.


So if we have convinced you to check out trail running for yourself, then consider these 12 trail running tips for beginners below. These helpful tips cover everything from what to do before you step foot on the trail, to how to recover faster after a long day of climbing those mountains.







 

TOP TRAIL RUNNING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

 






BEFORE STEPPING ON THE TRAIL



1 | FIND TRAILS THAT FIT YOUR FITNESS

When you are first starting out with trail running it is important to know your limits and to make sure you start out on trails that won't push you too hard. Because honestly, nothing is as disheartening and tough as getting into running shape on a super technical and difficult trail.


Instead, we suggest starting out on a trail that has little elevation gain, is nice and scenic (this helps keep your mind busy), soft (trails will help your body adjust to running without all of the extra strain you get on paved surfaces), and that is pretty busy. By starting out on a fun, beautiful and relatively easy trail, you will more likely want to keep up trail running long-term than if you just start out on really tough trails that push you physically and mentally.


A good way to find trails that fit this "easy" category is to look at sites like Alltrails. Here you can search for trails depending on distance, difficulty, elevation gain, route type and what kind of scenery you want.




2 | WEAR PROPER SHOES

While it might seem like a big investment to make in the beginning, one of the best ways to help you enjoy trail running when first starting out is to have proper footwear. Legitimate running shoes will help keep your feet comfortable and also injury free. While we aren't saying you need to buy the most expensive trail running shoes out there, we do suggest investing in at least a standard pair of running shoes period.


For the most optimal fit, we also recommend going into a running shoe store to get your feet looked at and measured - at least for the first shoe purchase. Because not everyone's feet are the same, you will want to make sure you are wearing the best shoes for your feet.


Some of the best trail running shoes are from brands such as Altras (which we both wear and LOVE), HOKA and Scarpa. You can find even more recommended trail running shoes at the bottom of this article.




3 | BRING THE RIGHT TRAIL RUNNING GEAR

You are definitely going to want to bring the right gear with you on the trail - especially when you are first starting out. Below are three basic items you will want to have before you set out on any trail run:



Running Backpack / Hydration is super important while trail running, so you will want to make sure you have a comfortable way to carry water. This running backpack by Osprey is lightweight and breathable and easily adjusts to fit your body. It also allows you to carry other necessities along the route (read more about this below).


Ultra-light Running Socks / One of the best ways to prevent blisters (a common side effect of trail running) is to wear proper socks that help keep your feet from rubbing and moisture at bay.


Lightweight Workout Shorts / A good pair of running shorts doesn't get in your way - luckily this pair has a nice stretchy waistband and super soft breathable fabric.



Because trail running requires you to usually be away from people and services, you will want to make sure you have everything you need on you in case of an emergency (weather, getting lost, getting hurt, etc.). Therefore besides the items above other important things to pack with you before heading out for a trail run are water, some snacks, an extra layer of clothing, a basic first aid kit, and a headlamp. Also, it isn't a bad idea to bring your phone with you along the route - especially if you are running in a new place or in a more rugged area.


You can find even more awesome trail running gear at the bottom of this article.


💬 INSIDER TIP: try to download the map of the area you are planning to trail run in before you set out - heck, maybe try to download it before you even leave your house. Having an easy to use offline map will ensure you still have a way to find your way back to safety even without service.




4 | WARM UP YOUR LEGS

While some people can go from zero to a hundred with no issues, it is usually smarter to take a bit of time and get your legs warmed up before you step on the trail and start running. These warm up exercises can be anything from a couple of high knees and butt kicks, to just walking for a bit in the beginning.


Some of our favorite warm up moves are to do a couple of leg swings - both to the side (where you cross your leg in front of the other and then out to the side) and back to front. We also will do a couple of moving stretches like high knees, knee-to-chest pulls, and walking lunges, if we find ourselves a bit sore, or if our legs feel a bit stiff from sitting all day.








ON THE TRAIL



5 | START OUT SLOW

One of the most important things to remember when you first start trail running - or any type of running for that matter - is that it is perfectly okay to go at a very slow pace and to even walk.


Always remember that walking doesn't mean that you failed or that you are weak. In actuality, walking can sometimes be a really smart decision - especially on super steep or technical sections. Likewise, when you first start trail running you probably won't be in the best possible shape; therefore a bit of walking can really help you push your distance and stamina. One great way to do this is to run for a set amount of time - say 3 minutes - and then walk for a bit - say 1 minute. This off and on running and walking will help you build up your running strength and eventually lead you down the line to walk less and go farther on your runs.




6 | WALK THE HILLS

Likewise, when you are out trail running and you get to a massive hill don't be ashamed to walk. One thing we have learned during our time trail running is that if you can't see the top of a hill, it is almost always smarter to walk up it than it is to run it.


This is because, for the most part, you will expend more energy running up a hill than if you just walked it. And you will likely still go around the same speed as you would running as walking anyway. This is such a well-known idea that most professional trail runners almost never run up steep sections. Instead, they speed walk or hike up them (often with trekking poles to help).


So the next time you are out on the trail and you come to a ginormous hill, don't be ashamed or discouraged if you have to walk it. Just keep on moving and once you reach the top just start running again.




7 | RUN YOUR OWN RUN

One of the key things about trail running - and running maybe in general - is the idea that as long as you keep moving you will eventually get to where you need to go. We know this sounds a bit obvious, but what this really means is that even if you slowly jog or even if you walk, you will eventually get to where you need to go.


Honestly, unless you are in a big race, it doesn't matter what speed you run at. What matters is that you are out there having fun, seeing the beautiful landscapes and getting some good healthy exercise. It truly does not matter that you are slower than others. At the end of the day, no matter how fast you ran, you will still have accomplished something and (hopefully) got those happy endorphins going.




Sunny view of the desert near Sedona, Arizona

EXPLORE MORE | THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO SEDONA AND FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA





8 | CHECK YOUR SPEED AND ALWAYS KEEP AN EYE AHEAD

Because trails can be quite a bit more technical than road running, it is important to always keep a good eye ahead of you. This means paying attention to the trail a couple of feet in front while also focusing on not tripping on common trail obstacles like roots, rocks or slick muddy sections.


Due to trail running's more adventurous nature, you inherently engage many more muscles than you would road running. You also have to put a lot more focus on not falling and not tripping - which in turn, makes your brain work just as hard as your legs. And this can then lead to lower levels of stress and anxiety, and a happier feeling overall.


Also, we believe it is worth mentioning, that because of trail running's more technical terrain, it is not really fair to compare your speed and paces to what you would be doing on even surfaces like a paved road or bike trail. Therefore don't beat yourself up if you are running slower or if you have to walk a bit more. While both road running and trail running are indeed running, they are totally different and should not be judged equally.




9 | BE PREPARED TO GET A BIT DIRTY

In our opinion, one of the best ways to look at trail running is as one big exciting adventure. Therefore it is important to remember that you will likely get a bit dirty, a bit wet, and even a bit scratched up. Take it all in stride and remember to just have fun with it.


This is seriously one of our favorite things about trail running: it is like hiking in overdrive. For the most part, you get to explore a beautiful area, see some stunning sites and get a good workout in. How does that not sound like fun?






AFTER THE TRAIL

<