Trail Running For Beginners: 11 Tips To Get Started + The Essentials

Trail Running For Beginners: 11 Tips To Get Started + The Essentials

Trail running, in my honest opinion, is the most enjoyable, therapeutic running you can possibly do.

Something about running off the beaten path allows you to stop paying attention to the analytics of running (speed, time, distance, etc.) and just…RUN!

Ironically, I’ve had some of my best (and fastest) runs because I was able to stop overthinking my pace. 🙂

The first trail run I did was back when I was a beginner, and running didn’t yet feel “easy”.

I set out on the trail intimidated but also excited for the possibility of where I would end up or what I would see on the trail.

After running on the trail for a couple minutes I turned off my music.

A few minutes after that, I turned off my running app.

Within 10 minutes I was completely disconnected from the outside world.

By the end of the run, I didn’t care how fast I’d ran or what my distance was.

I just genuinely enjoyed the run! 

It was actually one of the most freeing moments I can remember. 

If you’re even remotely interested in running, or even if you think you aren’t, I heavily suggest giving it a try.

If trail running DOES interest you, there are some things you’ll want to know!

The Benefits

It turns out, running surrounded by nature has amazing benefits for our mental + physical health!

Here are a few of the top-notch ones:

  • Heightens mental acuity (1)
  • Relieves stress — reduces heart rate and cortisol levels (2)
  • Provides an energy boost (3)
  • Gets your creative juices flowing (4)
  • Improves self-esteem (5)

I’d say these benefits make it worth it, don’t you?!

Gear + Safety

Because you’ll be out in nature + the elements, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared for anything.

Here’s a list of the most essential gear for your trail running endeavors.

I didn’t invest in all this gear at once…I slowly added these things over time!

  • Trail Shoes

Investing in proper trail running shoes is necessary if you’re looking to make trail running a regular habit.

This is because trail-running shoes are made in an entirely different way compared to your average running shoe!

They provide more grip for uneven terrain, further protect feet by using durable materials, and tend to be more “stiff” to promote proper “foot landing”.

Be sure to consult with your local running store to see which shoe will best work for the terrain you’ll be running on!

  • Headlamp

You’ll be happy you have one handy when you venture off during the early hours of the morning when the sun hasn’t quite woken up yet.

If you’re set on scheduling trail runs for mid-day, perhaps you could wait to invest in a quality headlamp.

However, there’s NOTHING better than running a trail as the sun comes up.

LITERALLY NOTHING. 😉

You’ll want to be sure you invest in a durable headlamp right off the bat, and you can find my favorite (which I currently use) HERE.

  • Reflective Gear

This is an essential piece of gear that many runners think they can live without.

If you’re running at night near a high-traffic area ALWAYS wear reflective gear.

No exceptions.

You can find a no-fuss running vest HERE.

  • Sweat-Wicking Clothing

Just take it from me, save yourself a ton of agony and never embark on a hot run outdoors wearing a cotton shirt.

You’ll feel like hell just chewed you up and spat you out. 

Sweat-wicking clothing (or “dri-fit”) doesn’t just look and feel better, but prevents chafing and friction — which we all know can ruin a run instantly.

It’s also crucial for regulating your body’s temperature — since the breathable fabric allows you to stay cool, and doesn’t trap heat like cotton does.

So take the time to invest in a sweat-wicking wardrobe.

I find it saves me money in the long-run since sweat-wicking fabric tends to be more durable + higher quality!

  • Running Watch

Now I know I said, be free in nature and don’t pay attention to stats, right?

However, it can be interesting to check out your running stats at a later time.

After you scale what feels like a large mountain during your run, you’ll wish you had a access to an elevation chart!

This is a passive, non-invasive way to track statistics that won’t ruin your zen.

You can find recommendations for the best running watches HERE.

  • Sunglasses

Leaving your sunglasses at home before a trail run is, in my world, the #1 biggest buzzkill.

There’s nothing I hate more than the beaming sun getting in my eyes while I’m trying to find my trail running peace of mind!

Nowadays, I’ll just leave a pair in my car so I always have them handy! 😎

  • Handheld Water Bottle

For a minimalist hydration option, I like to have a handheld water bottle on hand.

Depending on the length of the run, and the temperature outside, this will usually suffice for a shorter run.

Just be sure that this will be enough water to get you through the ENTIRE length of your trail run.

Cause you’ll definitely regret it when you have your last sip and you’re still miles from the trailhead.

You can find a great option for one HERE.

  • Camelbak

Since I usually save my long runs for the trail, this is the option I most frequently use.

I routinely mention that my Camelbak is one of the best investments I’ve ever made as a runner.

It’s allowed me to further explore trails and new areas, with the peace of mind that I’ll have plenty of hydration for MILES.

At first, it does feel weird to run with something on your back, but I promise after you have a few runs under your belt…you’ll hardly notice it’s there.

Also, I use mine to bring all the essentials with me on the trails (fuel, electrolytes, sunscreen, etc.)

You can find the one I currently use HERE.

  • Light Jacket

I highly recommend having a breathable, light jacket on hand for trail running.

While it’s excellent to have one as a second layer when the weather starts to cool down, I think the main benefit is protection.

When the trails begin to narrow, and plants + branches start to get closer, it pays to have that extra layer so your arms don’t get scraped up.

  • Sunscreen

Unless you want to look like a raisin in 5-10 years, protect your skin, people!

Really, we should be applying SPF to our bodies daily, no matter the activity; however, applying sunscreen before a trail run is BEYOND crucial.

Just make this a routine habit that you do daily, so it’s never forgotten — I can’t stress this enough! 

  • Compression Socks

Not only are compression socks my all-time favorite accessory as a runner (they come in SO many fun colors), but they help with recovery as well.

There are mixed views on how effective compression socks are for recovery.

However, in terms of trail running, I mainly use them as a source of protection for my legs!

On days that are too dang hot to wear leggings on the trail, compression socks provide that extra layer of protection without leaving you dying of heat exhaustion!

My favorite compression socks can be found HERE!

You can also find an entire article on compression socks HERE.

11 Useful Trail Running Tips For Beginners

So now that we’ve covered the essentials you’ll need, let’s go over some tips I wish I knew before I started hitting the trails…

1) Know The Trail Beforehand

While the adventure of not knowing where you’ll end up can make trail running exciting, always, always, ALWAYS review the trail map + rules before you ever set out in unknown terrain.  

Map out your course beforehand and plan your route.

It’s even worth it to note the local wildlife you’ll be surrounded by before you head out on the trail.

You’ll want to be aware of any dangerous plants or animals that may cross your path.

2) Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Make sure to schedule a trail-run when you have plenty of time to experience it!

Honestly, I barely look at my watch when I’m running on a trail as opposed to the road.

Also, you’ll likely be slower when you first embark on the trail since there will be obstacles and elevations that you’re not yet used to.

This is an excellent time to tune into nature and to be aware of all the little aspects of your running that you normally miss (breathing, footing, etc).

3) Don’t Overdo it!

While you don’t want to overdo it in running, PERIOD…you especially don’t want to overdo it while trail running!

There are many more opportunities for injury on the trails, meaning you should always take it SLOW.

It’s likely that you won’t be trying to set any records when you first start, so just run naturally and increase your pace + mileage slowly over time.

4) Use Your Arms

This is probably the most helpful tip I’ve ever learned!

Keep your arms + elbows wider, as if you’re trying to maintain your balance throughout the run.

This will help you keep your footing, while also allowing you to leap higher off the ground over trail obstacles (roots, rocks, etc).

5) Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

This is a no-brainer, but it needs to be said.

Make sure you’re always bringing more water than you think you need!

Hence, why I very routinely mention the CamelBak!

I even set intervals for hydration during my runsnormally every 5-minutes I’ll make sure to take a swig.

Also, I always recommend adding electrolytes to your water pre-run.

I’m a big fan of adding Nuun Electrolyte Tablets to my pack.

6) Pack Running Fuel

I recommend having fuel on hand for just about any trail run, but definitely make sure you have adequate fuel packed for those longer excursions.

Similar to hydrating, be sure to schedule when you’ll fuel during your run.

My favorite running fuel to take on the trails are Clif Shot Bloks.

Running fuel is a funny thing — you’ll either love certain products, or you’ll hate them — I’m talking about YOU gel packets!

So you might have to try an assortment of products before you find the fuel that works best for you.

7) Buddy Up

While I’m more one to venture out solo on a trail run, it’s definitely super fun to plan a trail running afternoon with some fellow runners!

This allows you to experience the trails in a fun, relaxing way.

Not to mention it also ups the safety factor.

An enjoyable activity is to team up with another runner, and to show each other your favorite trail spots!

8) Lose Yourself

No, not like the Eminem song.

This tip is a simple reminder to not take the trail too seriously.

While speed and distance are important things to consider when running, the focus around trail-running should be the EXPERIENCE.

Smell the air, feel the breeze and use these runs as a way to escape the outside world.

If you routinely incorporate trail runs like THIS into your life, you’ll definitely be reaping all the benefits trail running offers.

9) Bring a Camera

This one isn’t necessary, but I highly recommend it!

Do your best to stay as unplugged as possible during your trail run; however, have a camera on hand in case you come across wildlife that you want to document!

There have been numerous runs where I’ll see some feat of nature that I sorely wish I had a record of.

10) Recover Properly

Since trail running can be more strenuous on your body over time, it’s necessary for you to take recovery seriously.

Invest in a foam roller, learn the proper recovery exercises, and be sure to incorporate rest-days during the week.

11) Give Your Trail Gear Some TLC

There’s no question that your trail gear is going to get majorly dirtied up over time.

Make sure to take care of your gear from the very beginning, and give everything a good clean after your run.

This is super necessary in making sure your trail running investments last a VERY long time!

So there you have it!

I really, really hope these tips give you some trail running insight and encourage you to experience nature and get on those trails ASAP.

Now, a word of caution! 

Trail running is a major gateway drug to trail races and ultramarathons.

Developing a passion for it might cause you to go a little crazy and sign up for things like 50-mile races in the future. 

Just be forewarned…it’s addictive! 😉

Cheers,

Kat Rentas

Founder, Living In Slack Tide

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