A Beginners Guide to Trail Running

Seoul Flyers tackle Bukhansan National Park

Why relentlessly pound the street road running? The world beneath your shoes doesn’t have to be concrete and tarmac. Nature’s rough and rolling floors burn fat much faster than running on any pavement, and are a damn sight more forgiving on your joints and bones. So, head for the hills, run through woods and forests, in parks and along canals…

 Introducing… A Beginners Guide to Trail Running…

Why does the popularity of trail running in the United States surge every time there‘s a national crisis or period of epidemic uncertainty?

Simple answer: Running like a wild man or woman through the woods nurtures the soul.

Trail running satisfies a primal need for movement through nature, presumably left over from our days as hunters. When things spin out of control in an age of iPads and Droids, running in the woods is one thing we can count on to be pretty much the same as it‘s always been. That‘s your fancy explanation. My real reason for trail running? Getting dirty makes me feel way more badass than I am. So what does the average road runner have to gain from venturing out into the wilderness?

Two things. First, reduced risk of injury: The soft, ever-varying surface of the trail lessens the likelihood of an overuse injury, strengthens core muscles, and ultimately makes for more comfortable long runs than asphalt. Second, a rush that road running just can‘t give you. It should come as no surprise that soaking in the essence of the forest results in a quantifiably-greater endorphin release than it does breathing in road-side fumes.

Trail running has done more than make me a stronger, happier runner: It has made me a runner, period. For seven years before finding the courage and initiative to learn a new type of running, I ran strictly on roads. I relished the day-to-day routine of my training. But I refused to call myself a runner until I could truly enjoy the act of running for its own sake.

It took trail running to make me feel like a runner. Don‘t wait as long as I did to try it. Here‘s what you need to know to hit the trails safely and discover this wildly soothing side of running.

7 Steps to Your First Trail Run


1. Find a trail.

Be sure to distinguish between non-technical and technical trails. Non-technical trails are paved, gravel, or dirt roads that are generally easy to negotiate. Technical trails are narrow, dirt or rocky paths offering every variety of challenge that most people associate with trail running.

2. Slow down and take short, quick strides.

You can expect to run about 20 percent slower on trails for a given level of exertion than you would on roads. You‘ll find steeper hills, more side-to-side movement, and lots of obstacles to deal with. Trail running is most fun when you forget about pace and do what feels good.

Shorten your stride so that your weight is over your feet most of the time; this allows you to react quickly and maintain balance. You‘ll find that trail running works your core and stabilizer muscles more than road running, so it may help to focus on keeping your core engaged.

3. Don‘t be afraid to walk the hills.

The surest way to identify a road runner on the trails is to look for the guy who runs past everybody on the uphills, only to be passed again on the downhills. Trail runners know that it‘s usually more efficient to walk up the steep hills and conserve energy to make up time on the way down.

4. Scan the ground five to ten feet in front of you as you run.

When you‘re running trails, you need to pay extra attention to where you step. But you certainly don‘t want to be staring straight down at your feet the whole time.

Continuously scan the ground a few yards ahead of you while you‘re running. As you notice an approaching obstacle, shift your attention to your feet to do whatever is necessary to clear the obstacle. And don‘t be lazy — pick up your feet just a little higher than you think is necessary to avoid a root or rock. Too many falls happen due to simple complacency.

5. Keep a distance of ten feet from other runners.

If you‘re going to pay attention the ground in front of you, it helps if you can actually see it. If that‘s not enough reason to keep your distance, trail runners are required to change speeds all the time, rarely with warning. Nobody likes getting rear-ended.

6. Watch out for slippery roots and rocks.

If you can step over a fallen tree, root, or large rock, rather than on it, do it. Lots of them are more slippery than they look. And when crossing streams, it‘s often safer to walk directly through the water than to try to tiptoe across wet rocks. (You‘ll avoid being called names, too.) It‘s trail running; you‘re supposed to get muddy and wet!

7. Be safe. It‘s not called ―the wild for nothing.

You know, the common-sense stuff. Whenever possible, run with a friend. Bring a map if you‘re running a new trail for the first time. Have a first aid kit in the bag, and carry extra food with you for emergencies. Bring along a cell phone. And know the area you‘re running.

This is a guest article from Matthew Frazier of No Meat Athlete

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