15 Technical Tips for the Trail

Steep Climb

All trail runners, even professional racers, walk steep grades. "If you can walk faster than you can run, always walk," Fish says. "It conserves energy without costing time."

Your Buddy

If you are running with a dog, know the rules. Some trails require dogs to be on leash; others require dogs to be under voice control. And always clean up after your partner.

A breed apart: The top 8 dogs for all types of running.

Rocky Road

On trails littered with obstacles, seek out clear sections, says Rob Shoaf, founder of Epic Running trail-running camp. Dirt is nearly always a safer bet—even a flat rock can be unstable. "We tend to step where we look, so avoid staring at the rocks; aim for dirt," he says.

More: Hit the Trails to Stay Injury Free


On the trail, proper running form can be the difference between enjoying the scenery and face-planting in the dirt. Start with the basics: relaxed shoulders, arms bent at 90 degrees, feet landing right under your hips. As the trail becomes technical, make these adjustments:

Shorten your stride

"Taking smaller steps will help you maintain your center of gravity," says Elinor Fish, managing editor of Trail Runner magazine.

Slightly raise your arms

"Like wings, for balance," Fish says. Relax your shoulders and hands to avoid tension.

Know what's ahead

Alternate between looking up and looking three to seven strides in front of you. "On flat terrain, my eyes are looking up, but on more technical ground, I'm looking closer to me more often," Fish says.

More: Road Runners vs. Trail Runners

Water Crossings

A narrow stream?

Hurdle it.

A wide creek?

Look for natural crossings, like a log ("scoot across on your butt," Fish says), or a series of rocks.

A raging river?

Scout for the shallowest, smoothest section (white water indicates rocks below the surface). Face slightly upstream and cross at an angle. If the current is strong, find a branch to use as a walking stick. And if the current takes you, face downstream with your feet up (so they don't get caught on rocks). Steer to the edge where you can climb out.

More: What to Expect From an Off-Road Race

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