Just as temperatures start to climb and the hours of daylight increase, so to do the reasons to get off the roads and hit the trails. Most trails offer cool, comfortable and covered conditions that are a welcome reprieve from the exposed and scorching pavement of city centers.
For those unfamiliar, trail running may seem strange, tricky and potentially unsafe, but it can also provide a huge number of benefits. Improved strength, balance and agility. Reduced impact forces on the body to help prevent injury. Not to mention, breaking up the monotony of running on the roads.
But before you head out, consider these tips to stay safe and make the most of your off-road experiences.
Pick the trail that’s right for you
Not all trails are created equal. Some are simply cleared paths with gravel, dirt or wood chips instead of concrete. These simple and straightforward trails are best suited for beginners. Other trails are notoriously difficult, technical and offer a challenge that is not to be taken lightly. Before you depart, do some research, ask around and find out which local or regional trails are right for you.
Prepare to get lost
You’re welcome to try and map out a route in advance—in fact we actually suggest you do—but don’t be surprised if you still end up taking a wrong turn or finding yourself off course. Backtrack when necessary or else try to continue on your new course and change up the route on the fly.
You will slow down
Whether it’s the ever-changing elevation, the technical terrain or physical obstacles in the way, trail running is often much slower than out on the roads. Now is definitely not the time to obsess over pace. If possible, it’s probably a good idea to leave the GPS at home (it probably won’t work anyway). Your pace will change almost constantly depending on the route and keeping a consistent pace or effort is nearly impossible. Aim to run comfortably and keep your effort in check. Pick it up when you can but slow down as necessary.
Walking is totally acceptable
Just like with running, there will occasionally be times when slowing down to the point of walking is actually preferred. Steep hill sections, uneven terrain, perhaps a river or bridge crossing will all require you to take your time and safely navigate the trails at the expense of speed.
Regardless if you’re planning to run 5K or 50, trail running is less predictable than out on the roads and it’s best to err on the side of caution. Bring your own hydration, nutrition and emergency supplies just in case. Tell others where you plan to be and for how long.
There are now a large number of trail running events and races, many which place an emphasis on fun participation rather than competition. The trail running community has also earned the reputation of being the most chill, relaxed and exceptionally welcoming. Challenge yourself and mix up your routine by signing up for a trail race.