Trail running for beginners

Are you looking to start trail running? A beginner’s guide for the first steps you need to take before you start off-road running.

There is not a lot of similarities between trail running and hard terrain running. Of course the main exercise is running but trail running is a completely different sport. If you are used to running laps or around the city then you will notice that it is impossible to maintain the same pace when you are off-road. 

The most important factor to consider with trail running is take your time, don’t rush and enjoy the view until you feel confident with the new terrain. At first, you will feel exhausted but after a few runs you will be capable of managing your pace better and exploit the benefits of this sport.

Prepare for your first trail run

First impression always matters. And the same happens when we take up a new sport. Trail running is not easy but it does not require any special skills. Especially if you are a beginner you can start with running at your local park paths and slowly build up your endurance and pace.


It does not require specific gear and you can start with your normal running shoes. However you will need trail running shoes as soon as you improve your level and hit rocks, roots or mud. Undoubtely specialised trainers will offer more protection of the terrain.

Considering taking equipment to store water, food and maybe an extra layer depending on the weather forecast and the length of your run. Keep in mind to buy a small trail running backpack with a hydration compartment to store your water, food and a waterproof jacket. You can also add to your equipment a headlamp, a second pair of socks if you plan to go for a long run.

Trail Shoes

Conventional running shoes might be adequate for your first run. As you progress you will realise that you need a pair of trail shoes. They will support your heel and knees from the uneven terrain. Moreover there sole has been tested to handle trail obstacles like stones, roots and protection for your feet. Furthermore they have better treads than normal running shoes to provide friction in muddy surfaces. As you leave your local park and start running into mountain paths the trail shoes is the best gift you can make to yourself.



Trail Running Technique

The most common mistake for a beginner is to start too soon and head to the mountains or the most remote paths. A local off-road path is a good place for your first run which will help you build your strength and pace. Starting slow will help you to build up your body and avoid future injuries.

Because the trail paths are three dimensional keep a shorter stride so you can react fast and avoid obstacles. Keep your eyes down to check the short distance and scan the path in order to avoid roots, rocks or any small animals.

If you are a competitive runner then pace matters for you and are not used to breaks for water and food. However in off-road running you will need to stop for food as the paths are harder than road running. Admittedly sometimes we stop to admire the view which is breathtaking. Moreover it is absolutely fine to walk in order to tackle a steep hill in order to save your energy for the rest of the path. For the first few times you will realise that you are not able to run the same distance as on hard terrain running. Your pace will be slower, you will need more time to scan the terrain and of course have a break to enjoy the nature. Thus schedule the length of your run based on time rather than distance.

Remember that downhills are equally challenging as uphills. Slow down if you do not feel safe in order to avoid injuries. The secret is to low your core body with bending your knees so you can maintain your balance and run fast.

Choose a trail path

Before your first run allow plenty of time for yourself  because it will take longer than road running. Check the elevation level and remember to walk if you do not feel comfortable with the path. Main types of trails are:

  • Park trails: Local parks are great to start training for trail running. You are probably familiar with the environment and they are also more accessible during weekdays. If you are a beginner try to run on uphills in order to strengthen your body.
  • Gravel roads: Easier to find them in rural areas but they provide a great terrain to move from beginner’s level and become more experienced with off-road running.
  • Hiking trails: Top level trails is where you will enjoy the great benefits of trail running. Outstanding nature away from urban areas, will provide plenty of oxygen to boost your cardio. If you are not familiar with hiking it is worth checking online websites to learn more about the path. Komoot is a great app that will help you with finding and planning your route.


Normal precautions should be taken when you are venturing trail running regardless of your experience. In off-road paths there is no signs to navigate you so it is very important to plan your route ahead. Moreover use a tracking app on your phone such as alltrails and follow your trail. Weather in the mountains can change quickly so make sure you check the forecast and always take with you an extra layer.

Another significant tip about safety is to find a trail running partner. Especial if you are not familiar with the path it is worthwhile going with a more experienced off-road runner. If you cannot find a partner tell someone where you plan to go and the route you plan to follow. Apart from that normal hiking safety measures should be taking under consideration. If you want to learn more about hiking safety, check out this guide.

Motivation to push beyond your limits

If you are still not feel convinced to begin trail running then watch this video to find out about the wonderful story of Nicky Spinks. A British long distance runner who is a holder of the double Bob Graham challenge.

Benefits of running into the woods

The first time will be hard even if you are an experienced hard surface runner. The abnormalities of the new terrain will touch new muscles of your body. However after the first few times you will start seeing the benefits of off-road running. Your muscles will get stronger while you explore some of the amazing countryside. Moreover there will be less pressure on your bones and joints because there is less impact when you run on mountain paths than hard terrain roads.

If you consider yourself a beginner prepare to get dirty and muddy but don’t worry because the outcome will definitely reward you. This list of the top 15 trail running paths is a good place to start for your first run. Enjoy the freedom this sport provides and happy running!

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