3 Tips for Transitioning to Trail Running

Trail running is exciting—away from traffic and immersed in nature, alone with your thoughts and the crunching of leaves beneath your feet, trail running gives you the chance to "work in" rather than "work out." However, if you're new to trail training and racing, there are some things you should know. Here are some tips to train on trails.

Wear the Right Shoes

You wouldn't go to a business meeting in sandals, would you? How about a cocktail party in Nikes? If you're going to run trails, you need the right shoes. Trail shoes have more traction on the sole compared to road-running shoes, which will prevent you from slipping.

More: Trail Running Shoes 101

Practice Running Hills

Most trails have hills—this means you have to learn how to run hills. When running uphill, exaggerate your arm swing, lean into the hill, and push off with the balls of your feet to drive yourself up the hill. Aim for a specific effort rather than a specific speed since running uphill uncouples the effort from the speed (i.e., you're running relatively slowly even though you're working hard).

More: Keys to Efficient Uphill Running

When running downhill, shorten your stride to prevent overstriding and focus on moving your legs quickly. This will keep your momentum going forward. Since you can run pretty fast downhill because gravity is pulling you, there is less time to decide on foot placement, so look ahead a few steps since the footing on trails is often unreliable.

Even though running uphill seems harder, as your heart feels like it's about to burst out of your chest, downhills cause the biggest problems. Downhills are tough because of the gravity-induced eccentric muscle contractions—during which muscle fibers are forced to lengthen—causing microscopic tears. The forces of impact and braking are also greater during downhill running.

More: 6 Tips to Improve Downhill Running

Therefore, running downhill carries a greater risk of overuse injury compared to uphill or flat running, so be careful about how you integrate downhill running into your trail training. The good news is that damaging muscle fibers with eccentric contractions makes them heal back stronger, protecting them from future damage. While you can expect your muscles to be sore after the first time running downhill, subsequent downhill runs will cause less soreness since running downhill has a prophylactic effect on muscle damage and soreness.

More: Recovery Tips for Runners

Identify Yourself and Your Location

Trails are often isolated, with many paths to run, which makes it easy to get lost. When you first start training on trails, run with other people. If you run alone, carry an ID with you and be mindful of where you are. Always run on marked paths and spot landmarks so you can find your way back. If you're going on a long run, bring water and carbohydrates with you.

More: Easy Energy for Runners

Next time you run on trails, follow these tips. And if you train carefully enough, you'll not only enjoy what nature has to offer, but also may beat your friends in your next trail race.

More: What to Expect in a Trail Race

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