If you’re accustomed to running on the road or a treadmill, hitting the trails may be a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. But first, be ready: here’s what you should think about before you start.
1. CHECK YOUR ROUTE
If you’re used to following familiar park routes or pathways, you’ll need to get used to planning your trail routes and staying focused while you run – so you don’t go off-track. Navigating trail routes is easy, provided you have a plan and leave plenty of time for orienting yourself along the way.
2. KIT YOURSELF OUT
If you mostly run on treadmills you will need to invest in trail-running shoes – it’s possible (though unlikely) that the running shoes you use indoors will provide you with sufficient support when you head off-road. Depending on where you’re running, you’ll also need to dress for – often changeable – weather conditions, so wear layers of varying thickness that you can pull on or take off as needed.
3. PACK SOME FUEL
Even if you’re not planning long trail routes to begin with, you might find that running on the trails feels more demanding than your usual training sessions, so bring some fuel with you to provide you with a burst of energy. This can be a drink, gel or a bar, whatever is easiest to carry and consume.
4. DON’T FORGET THE SUNSCREEN
Regardless of the time of year, it’s a good idea to slip, slap, slop on some sunscreen. Some trails are very exposed and the sun’s rays can penetrate even those that provide tree cover.
5. GET STRONG
Trail running can be one of the most challenging types of running, so include regular strength training in your workouts in the weeks leading up to your first few trail runs. Focus on building strength in the lower body with some body-weight exercises, along with some plyometrics (dynamic strength training). Don’t overlook the upper body; strength here will help your balance.
6. WORK YOUR CORE
A strong and stable midsection will come in very handy on the trails, so get to know your core stability muscles well before you set off. You can work on this area during the day by sitting upright and tightening your abdominal muscles – or standing upright and doing the same – as often as you can remember to do so. Sitting on a stability ball or, better still, doing some of your strength- training exercises using one, will really help to target this area.
7. BE SAFE
Make sure you have some brightly coloured kit, know exactly where you’re going, and let someone know your route (or rope in a friend as a trail-running partner). Not only is it safer to run with someone, it’s also great to be able to share the sights and sounds of trail sessions with a running partner.
8. PLAN YOUR TRAINING
As you become used to trail running, add some attractive but challenging routes to make yourself work harder. But don’t overdo it in terms of difficulty or frequency: too much trail running, too soon, is asking for an injury. Steady progression, not giddy enthusiasm, is the way forward.
Words by Jeff Archer