Do you need to get more exercise? Would you like to discover a new sport or, if you’re already a runner, add a new facet to your training?
Here’s our advice on how to start your trail running journey on the right foot for everyone from total beginners to those who have already finished a marathon:
- What is trail running: it’s important to know what we’re talking about.
- Physical training for trail running: endurance training and trail-specific preparation.
- Hydration and eating for trail runners: becoming self-sufficient in the outdoors.
- Equipment needed to start trail running: a gradual approach to gearing up.
- Going further: proper planning of your trail run
WHAT IS TRAIL RUNNING?
Trail running is all about running among natural surroundings, primarily on trails and unpaved roads.
In addition to distance, another important facet of trail running is altitude gain and loss (although it’s not an end unto itself). Your runs can be flat, hilly, or up and down mountains. The wide variety of potential playgrounds adds to the richness of this sport.
To go trail running also means getting out into Mother Nature and filling your lungs with fresh air, tuning into your body, and sharing the rewards of a big day out with your friends.
To learn more about trail running and the spirit of the sport above and beyond the physical effort, check out this article.
PHYSICAL TRAINING FOR TRAIL RUNNING
Trail running is an endurance sport that also requires a solid ability to adapt to unstable and technical terrain. For a balanced progression, we suggest organizing your training on two axes.
- Endurance: the ability to run for a long time.
- Specific physical preparation: preparing your body for the terrain on which you’ll be running.
When starting a new activity, the key word is PROGRESSION. Give your body time to adapt. Even if your dream is to run an ultra, it’s important to be patient and progressively increase the distance and duration of your training sessions. Doing so will help you avoid both overtraining and injury.
Endurance is the foundation of your training
Basic training is just as fundamental to trail running as it is to any other endurance sport. It will allow you to run longer as well as progressively increase your training load.
A training session that focuses on endurance is carried out at low intensity (i.e. you want to keep your heart rate low). So be careful not to run too fast and keep in mind that walking uphill is a common practice in trail running.
You can also increase your endurance by practicing other sports like cycling and hiking. Just be sure to always maintain a low level of intensity.
Finally, an endurance session can be pretty long and can in fact be close to the length of your trail running objective. Doing shorter sessions more regularly throughout the week is also an excellent way to build your endurance.
Physical preparation that’s specific to trail running
Whether you’re a total newbie or an experienced road runner, it’s important to do some training that will prepare your body for the specific demands of trail running:
- unstable terrain: balance and proprioception
- running uphill: strength and coordination
- running downhill: core strength, balance, reading the terrain
You can train for these with specific sessions both outdoors and indoors. Read these articles to find examples of exercises that can be adapted to your goals:
Don’t hesitate to get the help of a personal trainer who can give you advice on interesting exercises that are suited to your ability level. Changing up your sessions is a good way to not only increase your ability to adapt but also stay motivated. Have fun!
EATING AND DRINKING ON THE TRAIL
To be as safe as possible, an outdoor sport like trail running requires a high level of self-sufficiency. In addition to safety gear, you should also carry enough water or energy drink, as well as enough food, to get you through your run. On short runs you can carry water in a portable flask. As you increase your distance and commitment level, you’ll find that a running vest with flasks will be more efficient. You’ll find lots of helpful advice on hydration in our story on How to drink when trail running. For an in-depth look into the nutrition aspect – both on a daily basis and also leading up to a race – take a look at our article, Why adopt a trail running diet?
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU NEED TO START TRAIL RUNNING?
Trail running is a sport that's quite similar to road running. Therefore, you'll need the same basic equipment that's been adapted to a wilderness environment:
- Trail running shoes that meet your specific needs. How to choose your trail running shoes
- Technical clothing designed for running as well as clothing to protect you from possible bad weather.
- A trail-running backpack to carry your water, food, clothing and other gear.
To find lots of great advice on how to choose your trail running gear, check out our gear guides. But keep in mind that there’s no need to invest in a complete, ultra-technical setup to start with. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Instead, as you progress, invest in quality equipment based on your specific needs and the type of trails on which you plan to run. The experience you’ll gain from spending more and more hours on the trail will become the best resource for choosing your gear.
GO FURTHER: PROPERLY PLANNING YOUR TRAIL RUN
In trail running, your training will take you from trails you know by heart to more ambitious outings and maybe even some races.
If it’s your first time in the mountains, or if you’ve never done a long-distance hike before, be sure to properly plan your runs by gathering as much information as possible:
- Plan your route: distance, elevation gain/loss, technical difficulty, route finding, engagement, popularity of the route…
- Anticipate the conditions: season, weather, amount of daylight including time of sunrise/sunset…
- Learn the area’s rules and regulations: protected areas, national parks, whether dogs are allowed or not, other activities in the area.
Adapt your gear accordingly including clothing, hydration and food either based on your own experience or by following our suggestions in this article.
For additional help, you can find loads of tools online as well as apps. By spending a bit of time to plan your run, you’ll more fully enjoy the scenery when the big day comes around!