In a world where pavement dominates the landscape of many a daily run, there lies another realm waiting to be explored—the winding trails that meander through forests, climb mountains, and skirt along rivers. Trail running offers a unique blend of physical challenge, mental rejuvenation, and a deeper connection with nature. I was an avid road runner for years then discovered trail and there was no looking back. Now my passion lies with trail running although I still enjoy road running. Is it easy to get into trail running? Well, anyone can do it but let’s just give you a few pointers on what you need when switching from road to trail running.

The Call of the Wild

The allure of trail running is undeniable. The moment you step off the beaten path and onto the forest floor, you’re transported into a world of tranquility and natural beauty. The air is fresher, the scenery more captivating, and the sounds of birds and rustling leaves replace the honking of cars and chatter of pedestrians. It’s a sensory experience unlike any other, one that invigorates the soul and clears the mind. Arduous climbs are rewarded with spectacular views, and muddy trails give way to beautiful landscapes.

Embracing the Challenge

Switching from road to trail running is not without its challenges. The uneven terrain, steep ascents, and technical descents require a different set of skills than running on smooth pavement. Balance, agility, and adaptability become paramount as you navigate rocks, roots, and mud. But with challenge comes growth, and each run becomes an opportunity to push past your limits and become a stronger, more resilient runner.

Many runners find that trail running enhances their trail running and makes them stronger, and even faster. I have switched out for whole training blocks then come back to the road, incorporated some speed work and found myself stronger, quicker, and able to knock out some new PBs.

Finding Freedom in Exploration

One of the most liberating aspects of trail running is the sense of exploration it fosters. Unlike roads, which are often crowded and monotonous, trails offer endless possibilities for adventure. Whether you’re exploring a local park, summiting a mountain peak, or tracing the banks of a remote river, every run is an opportunity to discover something new. And with each new trail comes a sense of freedom and exhilaration that can’t be found anywhere else.

What Do You Need When Switching from Road to Trail Running?

While you may think you have everything you need to transfer from road to trail, we would recommend you take a look at the gear you are running in and think about making some enhancements.

Trail or Road Running Shoes?

Firstly there are the shoes. Running on trails is different than tarmac with uneven terrains, rocky paths, muddy tracks, and softer ground. The kind of traction you get in a pair of roads won’t offer you the same benefits on the trails. You may want to choose a pair of trail running shoes with grip, cushioning, and rock plates. You may opt for waterproof trail running shoes in the wet season or something that offers you more protection than your road shoes. Let’s face it, you don’t want to get your new Alphaflys damaged from the terrain or covered in mud. Best to keep them for bouncing around on the road.

Now, if you are just going to give trail running a try, you could get away with a pair of old road shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy and dirty. Just be warned that you won’t get the required grip or cushioning from rocks that you might need.

Choosing a pair of trail running shoes can be a task in itself. We have lots of information and reviews in our reviews section for those seeking to find out more. Here is our guide to this year’s top trail running shoes for more info.

You may also want to get yourself a waterproof jacket, high-vis of course, and a hydration vest if you plan on doing long off-road miles.

Take it Easy with the Volume

You may be a confident runner on the road able to happily run for miles but running off-road is different. 10 miles on the trails can feel more like 13-14 of road running. It is harder – trickier terrains, elevation. Be careful with the elevation too – don’t try running up big hills too soon. You will soon become injured. Also, don’t be heroic on the downhills either – tripping over a rock is no fun – trust me I speak from experience here. It is something you need to get used to and build up the volume carefully.

Start with a short local run and run with friends or run somewhere you know – getting lost is not much fun on your own and safety is paramount when trail running – especially if you are running trails with local wildlife and steep cliff edges.

Adjust Your Expectations When it Comes to Pace

A good old favourite – checking your watch every minute – forget it – trails are slower – there are stiles to climb, gates to open, tricky terrain to navigate, fields to cross and more – if you think you are going to achieve the same sort of times off-road as you do on the road then you are going to be disappointed. You can still race for times but don’t make it all about beating the clock – you will miss some spectacular views if all you are concerned about is pace when switching from road to trail running.

Fuel Correctly

If you are going out on the trails, with no access to a shop or a water tap for miles, you want to consider taking water with you. Always good to pack emergency fuel as well – just in case. Again, trails are a lot more off the beaten track than roads and an injury or fall can be more tricky to deal with.

The good news is, unlike road, where you don’t stop to fuel, trails can be a lot more fun, food-wise. Some say it’s like a run with a picnic. Pack solid foods and enjoy the benefit of not having to chow down a gel when you don’t want to. Our favourite is a jam sandwich!  The longer efforts of trail running also require proper food.

Learn How to Navigate

Reading a map, using a GPX watch, plotting a route – you need to be able to navigate your way round rural areas when you don’t have the familiarity of roads. It is important that you go with someone who knows where they are going, or have some means of navigating should you get into a sticky situation. If all else fails – get to a high point so you have a clearer view of where you are.

Enjoy Both Road and Trail

Many runners have certain perceptions of trail running – “You will get injured” or “I am not done with PBs to try trail yet”. Trust me, I am not done with PBs but if there is one thing I have found – a few years of trail running have made me a much stronger road runner. If I focus on speed work and incorporate some decent sessions in my weekly training regime, I can soon get back to near my best, or better. I got a set of OBs in 2019 – the full set I think but have recently accomplished a new half marathon PB and a 5k PB some four years later. In fact, as I write this I am mentally preparing myself for my 3 x 2 mile flat as a pancake tarmac session that I will be undertaking in the next hour in preparation for a 5-mile road race that I have in 4 weeks. Before that though I have a nice local Easter trail run to enjoy.