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Hitting the Trails: A Quick Guide to Getting into Trail Running

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Feeling the grind of pounding the pavement day after day? Need a change of scenery from the city skyline to some luscious green? Or just looking for a great new way to stay active and get some fresh air? It’s time you should investigate trying out some trail running.

Trail running can seem like an intimidating activity to try and jump into with magazines and Instagram always showing epic pictures of lone runners crossing vast expanses of wild uninhabited country that would take a helicopter to get to. And while, that may be the dream, trail running is much more accessible and closer to you than one may think.

Trail running also has a couple of benefits that traditional road running may not offer.  Because most trails consist of softer materials than traditional pavement road paths, runners tend to experience less impact while trail running than on road runs.  Also, typical trail paths, especially technical running trails, often have varying uneven surfaces that require a higher degree of coordination to traverse. This offers the benefit of varying body movements, lessening the repetitive nature of distance road running, as well as engaging muscle groups in new and varying ways.

Another reason people tend to eschew trail running for traditional road running is the idea that unless you live in a rural area it is difficult to access good trails. While it may take a little more planning, most urban areas have plenty of trail options tucked in local parks or have some great options just outside city limits.

 

A simple online search at a site like Traillink.com will pull up all running trails in your area searchable by zip code.  There are also apps such as AllTrails that you can download for free that can also find trails nearby, as well as track your runs for you.

 

So, you’ve found your trail and you’re ready to run. What kind of gear do you need?

 

For beginning trail runners, the gear required isn’t much different than that of road running.  A dedicated trail shoe is recommended, especially if you’ll be hitting trails with lots of roots and rocks along the way. Your local run specialty shop is a great resource to check out options.  Basically, trail shoes differ from road runners in a couple of ways. Most notably the sole of the shoe will have a much ‘toothier’ grip. This will help in grabbing on to the uneven terrain and prevent slippage.  As well most trail shoes will contain a ‘rock plate’ in the front sole of the shoe to protect the ball of your foot as well as toes from being jabbed with rocks through the sole when your forefoot strikes the ground. This will decrease the shoes flexibility a bit, but that will help you maintain a stable footing as you traverse the trails.

 

Besides a dedicated trail shoe, other optional but recommended gear would be some kind of running bag (either a running belt or small sling bag) for carrying a small water bottle and food, and some bug spray.  But besides that, simple sweat wicking apparel that you’d normally wear for a regular run should be just fine for your trail runs as well starting out.

 

Once you’re all geared up, you’re ready to hit the trails!

 

One thing you’ll probably notice immediately is that unlike running on flat pavement, trail running requires you to concentrate much more on the path immediately in front of you. Roots, rocks and uneven terrain require much more careful foot placement than the ‘left foot, right foot, repeat’ rhythm of road running.

 

At first, you’ll probably feel a bit clumsy and even need to stop to figure out best approaches at certain junctions, but don’t worry, that’s the fun of being out on the trails. It’s almost like figuring out an obstacle course, and helps you feel more connected to the trail as you go along. The challenge keeps you much more present and in the moment, and the awareness of your surroundings will encourage you to really experience your surroundings rather than just passing through them.

 

You’ll probably also need to drop your regular road running pace quite a bit, but that’s ok. The added elevation changes, and varying surfaces will more than make up for the lack of speed in the effort department.

 

Your first couple outings might be a little clunky and have you feeling a little out of your element, but mixing in a trail run at least once a week to your traditional training will have you experiencing a whole new way to run, and you’ll be sure footed as a mountain billy goat in no time!

 

Author: Matthew Macknis

 

Eastern PA born and bred. Spending his youth in his hometown of Allentown PA (of Billy Joel fame) and spending the last 10 years in the City of Brotherly Love and Rocky. Matthew loves Running, Hard Rock Music, Dinosaurs, Poker, History, and all the Travel one can get! Never a stranger to a great new adventure in unfamiliar territory, or a quiet night with old friends and new comrades. Track him down to trade some stories or travels abroad or nights at the local dive.

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