If you’re new to trail running, fear not: the off-season is the perfect time to try new things. These tips will help you get trail ready:
1. Find a trail.
Ask your trail running buddies, friends who hike, mountain bike or walk their dogs what trails they frequent and what the surface and elevation is like. Or search online for a “running trail in [your town here].” Also, employees at running specialty and outdoor shops can share valuable information on trails near you.
2. Join a club.
Trail running clubs host group runs on various trails, which is both a great way to discover routes in your area and meet new people (aka running partners).
3. Gear up, or not.
Part of the beauty of running is that you don’t need a ton of gear to participate. But having trail-specific shoes (with traction keeping you sure-footed and protection to keep your feet out of harm’s way), sweat-wicking apparel and hydration accessories, and over-the-ankle socks to keep out debris will all help keep you more comfortable. And being more comfortable lets you stay out longer, and makes you want to go more often.
4. Be safe.
Leave the headphones at home. Being aware of your surroundings can help you safely get out of the way of a mountain biker or other trail users. Plus, being headphone-free allows you to tune into the sounds of nature, such as the peaceful sounds of a bubbling brook.
5. Enjoy animal encounters.
Know that animals and reptiles are afraid of you, and educate yourself on the safest reaction to each type of animal. Generally speaking, predatory-by-nature animals like coyotes, bears and mountain lions enjoy a good game of chase—so avoid the urge to turn your back and run. Rather, stand tall and back away slowly. If you see a deer pracing through the woods, stop and enjoy the moment.
Tensing up because you may be afraid of twisting an ankle can actually make you twist an ankle. Relax your upper body on technical terrain. Focus on keeping your hips directly under you, and looking forward a few feet to choose your line on the trail. Negotiating technical terrain strengthens tendons, ligaments and muscles, and becomes second nature the more you do it.
7. Suit your mood.
You don’t have to sign up for an ultramarathon to be considered a trail runner. If you’re in the mood for a smooth dirt path through a city park, or a stretch of sandy beach (try to go at low tide), or a gravel route around a lake, enjoy it and be proud. The softer surface underfoot makes you stronger and is gentler on your joints, plus the mental break of being away from traffic and connected to the natural world can’t be beat.