Trail running lets us challenge ourselves while enjoying the beauty of the rural locations that we run in. It’s easy to do and relatively inexpensive. All you need to do is get yourself a pair of trail shoes and off you go. Whether exploring new trails and beauty spots or re-visiting your favourite places on foot, there are some golden rules of trail running. Number one, we think, is to enjoy yourself.

This easily accessible sport is a form of exercise that lets you escape every day stresses. It is a great way to lose yourself for an hour or so. It also helps you get fit and stay in shape. As well as challenging yourself, and your body, you can also discover new places.

Our Rules of Trail Running – What Not to Do

Whether you are just getting involved in trail running and trying a few miles, or you are looking to train for your first event, there are some mistakes, learnt from our own experience, that you should try and avoid:

1.  Doing Too Much, Too Soon

Many runners that are new to trail running, but perhaps not new to running, often underestimate just how hard it is on the body. I remember being in peak physical fitness when I was training for a road marathon in 2018 and hitting 40-50 miles per week. My sessions consisted of long run of 18-20 miles, speed intervals, mid distance run and a couple of easy runs thrown in plus I was visiting the gym twice a week. One day, I was invited to go for a run on the trails – just ten miles of pretty and scenic trails – easy I thought. Well… the DOMs was real. It took me a good few days to recover from that run and I considered myself to be fit.

If you are going to start trail running, just be aware that climbing and descending hills and covering various types of terrain will put new stresses and strains on your muscles. You will engage different muscles to cope with the uneven terrain and elevation and you will use your core more to balance, especially on uneven and rocky paths and descents. Take it easy when you get started. Perhaps carry on with your normal road routine and switch out one run a week. Don’t expect to be able to cover the same distance off road as you do on the road with the same results. We’ve often heard it said that 9/10 tough trail miles is equivalent to a longer road distance such as a half marathon.

2.  Worrying About Pace

I heard something the other day that made me smile – ultra marathons are what you do when you start to lose your road pace. Of course, for some this is very true. I took to trail running when I had had enough of chasing PBs and had tired of marathons training. Don’t get me wrong – I loved road running – any kind of running but I just happened to find myself on the Mendip hills one day and that was it. I wanted every run to be like this and the road didn’t hold the same appeal for me.

Of course, the 8 minute miles I achieved on the road became – 10 min/11 min average pace on the trails but I didn’t care. If you are still looking to achieve those road PBs don’t be put off by the fact that your pace is slower off road. You will still be exerting the same effort if not more and it won’t slow you down. In fact, after running a road run at pace the other day, I discovered I could hold a 7 minute mile quite comfortably which I am not sure I have ever been able to do. The thing with trail running is to take your eyes off your watch and enjoy the beauty around you.

3.  Expecting to Stay Clean

Shiny new shoes are great but be warned – they are going to get dirty. In fact, when considering which kit to wear, if you are hitting the trails, the chances are you are going to get covered in mud. Amongst the rules of trail running, we think that dirty shoes should be mandatory!

In the summer months it’s not so bad and you can come away from a trail run relatively unscathed however when it’s been raining, the mud soon accumulates. If you are running through woods, the shade of the trees often means the ground doesn’t dry out very quickly leading to very muddy paths. Also, when climbing over gates and stiles, you will find the mud considerably deep. If it’s farm land then word to the wise – it’s not just mud!

We regularly come off the trails so covered in mud that we aren’t allowed in the house without a hose down. We tend to always have clean shoes and socks waiting in the car and a packet of wet wipes! If you don’t like mud, trail running may not be your thing.

4.  Choosing the Wrong Trail Running Shoes

During the summer months when the trails are dry, we often wear old road shoes. They tend to be more comfortable than trail shoes and the grip is fine on dry dirt tracks. Anything other than a dry day though and it’s always advisable to go with trail training shoes. There are many out there available from brands such as inov-8 that specialise in all kinds of trail shoes.

We like a pair that will transition between road and trails – the Roclite 290 are good for this but not so great in heavy mud. You also don’t need to invest a fortune. Sites like stock a whole host of trail shoes including those from last season. In fact, we often buy last seasons to save money and because we usually find a pair we like and stick with them for as long as they are made.

Remember to choose the shoes to suit the terrain and distance that you will be running. It’s no fun being out on the trails in the wrong shoes, especially when you are covering big miles.

5.  Not Taking a Phone

While you may want to get away from the stresses and strains of every day life and switch off from it all, it is still advisable to carry a phone with you. If you are on your own, you should always have it handy in case you fall over or get lost or need picking up. It’s also handy for letting the emergency services know your location if you do get into trouble. You can carry it in a hydration vest or backpack or you can buy phone belts and other accessories.

We tend to find that having our phone with us is useful for taking photos. While we may be training for ultramarathon events, we will often stop to take a photo (just take a look at our gallery for proof). The times when we have been without a phone are the times when we wished we had it. It’s also great for navigation if you need it with OS map apps and other GPS apps to help you navigate your way around.

As we have already mentioned, top of our list of rules of trail running is to have fun. Enjoy your time on the trails and find new places while challenging yourself to new feats.

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links which may provide a small commission to me at no cost to you. The products we recommend are either those that we’ve used or that our fellow runners have used.