If you’re a new runner thinking of heading off-road and onto some trails, a certain level of planning is necessary beforehand. Unlike road running, which you can pretty much do on a whim, trail running requires some forethought. Don’t let this deter you from giving it a shot, though — the short planning period is well worth it, and you’re bound to have fun on the trails. Just be sure to keep these tips in mind before you head out.
Know your way back
Take your phone, run with someone who knows the trails (when you’re allowed to run with other people again, that is) or be sure you know the area and trail system well. There’s nothing quite like getting lost in the woods, and we don’t mean that in a good way. If you get disoriented and don’t have GPS or someone with you to help you find your way home or to your car, it can be pretty scary. Plan ahead and bring something or someone to get you home safe in case you get lost.
Get the right gear
Aside from the right shoes, you don’t necessarily need other gear for road running. To a certain extent, that’s also true with trail running, but there’s some equipment that can be really helpful. If you’re hitting the trails in the winter, for example, traction spikes can save you from a lot of slips and falls. If you plan to run long, it’s a good idea to get a hydration vest. When you’re in the middle of a forest, it helps to have some extra gear.
Ignore your pace
Forget about your pace when you’re on the trails. It’s a great metric for road runners, but trail running’s hilly, technical terrain basically turns your pace into a useless number taking up space on your watch display. If you go into a trail run expecting to run the same pace as you do on the road, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, focus on your effort. Speed up if you think you can go a little faster, slow down if you’re getting winded and forget about how fast you’re moving.
When you’re on the trails, it’s OK to enjoy nature and take in your surroundings, but don’t get too distracted. If you lose focus for too long, you’ll almost certainly trip on a rock or root. You can get away with daydreaming on the roads, but when you make that transition to the trails, your attention needs to be on the ground in front of you so you can avoid all obstacles that come your way.
Share the trail
It’s way easier for a runner to step off the trail than it is for a mountain biker, so if you see someone riding your way, take a breather, move to the side and make room for them. It’s the nice thing to do, and mountain bikers will appreciate it. When it comes to other runners or hikers, if you come up behind them, let them know you’re there. You can see them, but they might have no clue that you’re behind them, so a quick “Sorry,” “Excuse me” or “On your left” will let them know you’re coming and give them the chance to move aside. Oh, and always be sure to thank people for letting you pass.
Mind the time
It’s always important to know how long you’ll be on the trails, but it’s especially necessary in the winter when it gets dark early. If you plan on going for a one-hour run, make sure you start early enough so that you’ll finish while the sun is still up. Remember how we said there’s nothing quite like getting lost on the trails? The only thing worse than that is getting lost on the trails in the dark.