11 Tips to Run Better on the Trails

Abandon the sidewalk and head for the trails. No matter where you live, you can find a surprising number of trail options—even in urban areas—so don't let your location stop you.

Trail running is fun and better for you than running on pavement. Whether you're a longtime trail trotter or a no-cement newbie, check out these tips for trail running to get the most of your off-road experience.

Tips for trail running:

  • Choose your trail wisely. If you're a beginner, stick to well-marked flat routes (like the C&O Towpath). If you want to explore somewhere more adventurous, try to find a running buddy who knows the routes to show you the first time.
  • Slow down. Trail running can present unexpected obstacles like rocks and branches and sudden drops, so don't expect to run exactly as fast as you would on a flat road.
  • Don't run for time. Because of varying conditions, you really can't judge your time the same way as road-runners do. All routes present their own challenges, so do the same route regularly to compare your time if you must.
  • Watch where you're going. Always keep your eyes on the trail a couple feet ahead to avoid tripping. If you're running behind someone else, keep at least a few feet between you to avoid mishaps.
  • Pick up your feet. If you're a runner who "shuffles" and often trips on the roads pay close attention, especially when you're tired towards the end of your run!
  • Bring what you need. Not all trails have the same amenities as roads or parks. For a long run, bring whatever you need to stay hydrated with you. Consider wearing a hydration belt and bringing food or energy gels to keep you going through a long trail run.
  • Wear the right footwear. For most D.C. runs, you don't need trail shoes, but I highly recommend good socks that come at least 1 inch above the top of your show to avoid dirt and pebbles giving you blisters. If you find yourself in more challenging trail situations (lots of rocks, tree roots, etc.) consider investing in trail shoes for more stability.
  • Save your energy. If the trail gets too steep uphill, power-walk to save your energy for the rest of the run. Taking long walking strides can actually be faster than running on an uphill. Also, walking uses different muscles than running, so by doing so you will give your tired legs a much-needed break.
  • Avoid injury. Walk steep and rocky downhills to avoid twisting your ankle or straining your knees. Running downhill can be really fun, but use your best judgment. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead of you and do not get out of control.
  • Run in silence. Trail running can be a meditative break from the city-style business of your workday, so consider leaving your iPod at home. Also, running with earbuds could keep you from hearing another runner or biker coming up behind you.
  • Share the trail. Be aware of others using the trail. Many trails are narrow, so move to one side if someone wants to pass.  

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Put these tips to the test at a trail running event.

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