Tips for New Trail Runners: Moving From Road to Trail

August 21, 2012 9:00 am 8 comments

If you are new to running trails, leaving the pavement and hitting the dirt may seem intimidating. Even if your ultimate goal is road running, getting out on the trails can be a great complement to your training. The softer and irregular ground surface is more forgiving on the feet and the joints. You will find that you can load on the mileage with less chance of injury. And getting away from traffic noise and exhaust fumes makes running a much more peaceful experience. Chances are, once you start running on trails, you’ll find that you prefer them to pavement!

Here are twelve tips to help you transition to the dirt:

  1. Get yourself some trail running shoes. Not only do they have more aggressive treads than road runners, to keep you from sliding around in the gravel or the mud, they also have more sturdy soles. You are less likely to injure the bottom of your foot if you step on a hard root or a rock. The upper part of trail shoes is also tougher, too, to protect you from stubbing your toe or grazing your foot.
  2. Loosen up. Don’t be nervous. Keep your body relaxed. If your body is tense, you are more likely to stumble or fall. (But what if you are really nervous? See point #3).
  3. Recon some routes. If you are really new to trails, do some fast hikes to get used to moving over irregular terrain. Start with less technical routes until you feel comfortable. Find a route that you like, and run it over and over until you memorize it, Then you can get used to moving your body on the rough ground, and practice picking up speed, without worrying about surprises as you round the corners.
  4. Slow down. Expect to run 10 to 20% slower than you would on pavement – even slower if the terrain is highly technical.
  5. Pay attention. You can’t yantbonus “zone out’ the way you can on a flat road. Keep your eyes 10 to 15 feet ahead of you on the trail, so you can plan your footfalls around obstacles like roots or rocks. Don’t follow other runners too closely – keep your line of sight clear.
  6. Take short strides. This is one of the most important factors that road runners must keep in mind as they transition to trail. Taking short strides, so your weight is above your feet, keeps you more stable, and in a good position to react and step around rocks and roots. You cannot react quickly if your foot is out ahead of your body.
  7. Be aware of your foot position. Lift your feet a bit higher than you would on the road, and make sure you raise your toes when you are stepping over obstacles like roots or logs, so you don’t trip.
  8. Don’t be afraid to walk. Hills can be steeper on trails than on most road routes. Walking the uphills is a good strategy to avoid lactic acid build-up. Walking any very technical sections, such as trails with lots of roots over them, or rocky river beds, is also wise. Taking walking breaks on long runs is a strategy used by many ultramarathoners.
  9. Get your feet wet. Many injuries happen when runners try to keep their feet from getting wet by hopping on slippery rocks or logs. Just let your feet get wet – it is only that first dunk that feels so bad! Not only will you be safer, you’ll find that you will travel faster than by hopping around.
  10. Think hydration. Depending upon your route, and the length of your run, you may need to carry a water bottle or wear a hydration pack.
  11. Be smart. Think about what gear is appropriate to the route you are traveling. If there is a chance that you might get caught out at nightfall, carry a headlamp. If there is a chance that the weather could turn on you, carry a jacket. Find out if there are any wildlife issues you need to be aware of.
  12. Play it safe. Don’t get lost. Do your research, and carry a map if necessary. Tell someone where you are going, and when you plan to be back. And make sure that they know what to do if you don’t report in.

Trails are fun! Hopefully these twelve tips will help make your transition from road running to trail running both safe and enjoyable. Happy running!

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jacqueline Windh

Jacqueline Windh

Jacqueline Windh runs around Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island, Canada, with her partner Dave and their two dogs. Although she mostly runs purely for the joy of running, she does enter the occasional off-road ultra (her favorites are multi-day races: the tougher the terrain, the better). Her articles have been published in magazines around the world, and she is author of four books.

Related posts:

8 Comments

  • This is some great advice!
    I would add, run with others. Not only is it more fun adventuring through the woods with a friend, it really is safer.

  • Hi Roger –

    Thanks for adding that point.

    I must admit that I do like running alone, as well as running with my friends. But if you do go alone, it is even more important that you make sure you know what you are doing: carry the appropriate gear, know your route well, and make sure that someone knows where you went, when you plan to be back, AND what to do if you don’t show up on time.

    Also, the one caution I’d make about going in groups – is to make sure you don’t have the “Oh, it’ll be safe because I am with someone else” attitude. Unless someone is a deginated leader or guide, you should make sure you are every bit as prepared as if you were going alone. Because it is just as likely that you will be required to give your buddies some help as it is that you will need their help.

    Happy trails!

Leave a Reply



+ five = 13

Other News

  • Equipment Trails Salomon’s “Door to Trail” running shoe: The XR Mission CS

    Salomon’s “Door to Trail” running shoe: The XR Mission CS

    I admit it, I am already a fan (and regular user) of Salomon shoes. I was excited when they launched their Speedcross line, with the deep-lugged treads (that I liken to snow tires) that I had desired in trail runners for years. Now, Salomon have come out with a completely different line of running shoes, their “Door to Trail” series. These shoes are basically hybrid trail/road runners, incorporating the cushioning of a road shoe with the protection and grip of [...]

    Read more →
  • Beginners Tips Training Rest Days:  Pushing Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone

    Rest Days: Pushing Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone

    It is my hope that you have been diligently practicing your running routine a few days out of the week.  I expect that you have used the tools I have provided to help combat motivational lapses including but not limited to: sleeping with a cup of coffee and a banana next to your bed, wearing appropriate gear for all weather situations, and making sure that any momentary drops in your daily drive to run are not too harshly punished (and [...]

    Read more →
  • Fitness Health Injuries Is Running Bad for Your Knees?

    Is Running Bad for Your Knees?

    Do you avoid running because it’s bad for your knees and joints? Some people believe if they run to stay fit they’ll end up with joint problems and osteoarthritis. Is there any truth to this idea? Running and Joints: Does Running Increase the Risk of Joint Problems? There’s very little evidence that running increases the risk of joint problems or osteoarthritis later in life. In a study published in JAMA in 1986, researchers found no increased risk of clinical osteoarthritis [...]

    Read more →
  • Destinations Race Report Trails Race Report: Shawnigan-Kinsol Half Marathon

    Race Report: Shawnigan-Kinsol Half Marathon

    I’m just in from running the Shawnigan-Kinsol Half Marathon – and this is not just any old half marathon. This is the 37th consecutive year it has been run, making it British Columbia’s longest running half marathon race. The course itself is unique – both because it is half on road and half along trails, and also because it passes over the historic Kinsol Trestle (more about this magnificent railway bridge below). And, its location in the tiny town of [...]

    Read more →
  • Barefoot Barefoot Races Across The Nation

    Barefoot Races Across The Nation

    If you’re one of the many runners who have discovered the joy of barefoot running, one of the best ways to share the experience is by taking part in a barefoot running race. In some areas of the country, particularly on the west coast, minimalist running shoes or going completely sans shoes is becoming common place, but in a few regions of the U.S. naked foot runners still get quite a few strange looks. Joining a race is a wonderful [...]

    Read more →
  • Health Trails Foot Care for Trail Runners

    Foot Care for Trail Runners

    The most important part of any runner’s body is our feet. If our feet are not in good condition, we may not be able to run at all. While trail running is easier on the joints than road running, running on trails can present some specific hazards. Here are some foot care tips, so your feet will be up to encountering whatever the trails may bring. Foot Care at Home Whether you are a road runner or a trail runner, [...]

    Read more →
  • Health What to Drink When Running:  A Quick Primer

    What to Drink When Running: A Quick Primer

    If you’re a runner, you understand the importance of good hydration, particularly if you run outdoors in warm weather. Warm temperatures combined with high humidity can cause rapid overheating unless you regularly replace fluids lost through sweating. When it comes to drink options for re-hydration, the modern runner has a bewildering array of choices ranging from sports drinks to high powered energy drinks. How do you choose among  the many options? What are the best drinks for runners? The type [...]

    Read more →
  • Beginners Training Eating is NOT a Form of Cross Training

    Eating is NOT a Form of Cross Training

    You’ve been training for a few months, and despite all the motivating words of wisdom you’ve been voraciously reading on runlivelearn.com, the excitement that comes with beginning a new discipline and becoming a runner has lost its initial glow. You find yourself hitting the snooze button more frequently (multiple times in a row), and find yourself looking for excuses as to why you should take yet another day off from running.  Maybe you’ve had some rough days at work and [...]

    Read more →