Trail running is one of our most enjoyable pastimes and if you have found your way here then it’s highly likely that you are a fan too! It’s fair to say that it’s becoming an increasingly popular hobby for many. In fact, searches for trail running in Google recently have increased by as much as 850% during Covid lockdown. That’s no surprise given the fact that people have been living through a pandemic, forced to socially distance, isolate, and stay at home. If you have found yourself considering, or even starting to explore the trails, we have some top tips and trail running advice to keep you safe and maximise your enjoyment.
Top Tips and Trail Running Advice
Leave only footprints
Why would anyone leave anything other than their footprints behind on the trails? Well, sadly it is a fact that there are those that aren’t so considerate. We have often picked up empty gel packets and water bottles out on the trails. Now, not all of the litter we encounter is left behind by runners. Often, it is just inconsiderate people that perhaps don’t have the same understanding or empathy of the countryside. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon scorched ground from a recent BBQ or the remains of what was someone’s picnic. So for our first piece of trail running advice is “leave only footprints”.
Take a mobile phone
Falling over, spraining an ankle, or getting lost and needing rescuing is no joke but it can be extremely scary if you don’t have any way of communicating with the rest of the world. It’s also very useful to capture those beautiful sunrises or sunsets or stunning landscape. If you are going solo, be sure to take a phone. If you are going as a group, make sure that you have at least one of you has a fully charged phone. While you may not always have a signal, you can still make emergency calls. If you find yourself lost or looking for route information, the maps, Strava app and OS apps are extremely handy. The ‘What 3 Words’ app is also great for arranging places to meet. It’s also really handy for others to track you and find your exact location.
Focus on time over distance
Running 10 miles on the trails will take considerably longer than the same distance on the road. If you want to be out for 90 minutes than calculate your average mileage pace off-road and adjust your planned mileage as necessary. We like to think of it as time on feet – we may do 15 miles in 3 hours on an average day but on a very hilly route when the trails are all muddy we may only cover 13 miles in 3 hours. If it’s a dry day with less elevation, it’s going to be more like 17/18 miles. The same route in different conditions can take much more or less time.
Focus on Technique
When climbing hills, use your arms to help drive you forward. Shorten your stride and let your arms do the work. on the descent, use your arms to counterbalance your legs. Also, be mindful of the terrain and use small steps on fast descents, always focusing a few steps ahead of you to ensure you can see any potential trip hazards. Taking a trip or tumble is not always going to be avoidable however, you can minimise the impact and the risk of coming a cropper. Most of us have done it. Only the other day, we were on a run comparing war stories and who had experienced the worst fall. I am sure my tale of a bruised chin is still up there though. We aren’t trying to scare you – just make you aware of the risks of trail running so that you can minimise them.
Technical trail running skills come with time and practice but there are a few tips that will help you. We cover more on this subject in our article but essentially it’s about balance, taking small strides, looking where you are going, focusing a few steps ahead, and having good core strength. like anything, these skills improve and adapt over time as you become a more confident trail runner. You can join a local club where they have coaches, or enlist the help of a running coach.
Wear Trail Shoes
If you are going to be spending time exploring the trails and feel that it is something you may partake in regularly, invest in a pair of decent trail shoes. From Salomon Speedcross to Hoka Speedgoat, Inov-8 Mudclaw to La Sportiva Bushido II, there is an extensive range of trail running shoes to suit all budgets and types of terrain. Spend a bit of time researching and looking for something that can cope with various terrains – mud, rocky paths, grassy trails…
We tend to have a few pairs – different ones for different seasons. I find in the winter/spring months when the rain is really wet and muddy, a pair of inov-8 Mudclaw is absolutely the right shoes for the terrain however, they don’t do so well in good conditions.
Don’t be precious about your trail shoes
We have already recommended a pair of decent trail shoes to help you get the most out of your trail running however, if you are taking your time over the colour and how they look then we should save you the time and tell you not to bother. A pair of trail shoes, is not a pair of trail shoes until they have been christened in the mud!!! See picture! These shoes (the Mudclaw I mentioned above), are a beautiful shade of red when you first receive them.
Be prepared for hills
Beautiful views mean you have to be prepared to climb a few hills. Unless you live on flat moors, most trail running means climbing and descending hills at some point. In fact, many trail runners are more interested in how much elevation they have achieved than how many miles or how fast they have run.
If you are undertaking big miles, you may want to consider walking the steeper hills. We use hills during an ultra to take in food and to keep our heart rate down. If we are doing shorter miles, we run the hills and if we are training, we dit in hill repeat sessions.
Take food & water
If you’re planning on running anything over 10k, we really do recommend you take water and fuel. Some people are OK with gels however, we tend to favour shot blocks for an instant hit. Alternatively, we will take some malt loaf for a snack and an instant energy boost. If you are planning on running long then perhaps pack a small picnic. Whether it’s a long training run or an ultra marathon, there are a lots of recommended foods to try over on our blog “Eating During an Ultra Marathon”.
Forget your speed
Steep climbs, tricky descents, uneven fields, bumpy trails, stiles, gates… there are many challenges when trail running which will inevitably slow you down. It’s a good idea to forget the watch. By all means, wear one but don’t keep time checking. Don’t be concerned with pace and how fast that last mile was. We have clocked up 20-minute miles when really battling against the elements and climbing a steep ascent. Conversely, on a dry day, you can clock up some good speeds descending or over even terrain. Your average pace overall is nearly always going to be slower than your road speeds though.
Slow down and take it all in
We don’t mean slow the pace, we just mean take a minute to appreciate the beauty around you. Trail running offers some of the most beautiful views, incredible wildlife, and opportunities to just stop and catch your breath. for us, it is a chance to forget our troubles and just switch off for a few hours. A Sunday long run, while physically tiring, gives you a chance to press the reset button so to speak.
Be prepared to nature wee
If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. Ladies, we mean you too! It’s not just the number ones that you have to worry about. Running long distances, eating as you run, gels, etc. can play havoc with your stomach. If you are training for a long race, it’s best to prepare now than discover a weak constitution on the day. Taking some emergency tissues and supplies is always a good idea.
Share the love
There is something quite rewarding about sharing your favourite routes with friends. We have introduced many people to some of our regular trails and we love their reaction. We have a weekly off-road group that meets on a Thursday where we take turns to organise the route to introduce one another to new places. The beauty of trail running is that it can be enjoyed alone or shared with friends.
Some of our best routes have come from a conversation that starts with “I wonder where that goes”. Sometimes we save it for another day and make a plan to check it out next time while others we just go with the flow and follow the path. Joining up the dots and working out where these unknown trails lead is extremely rewarding. Be careful that you don’t start exploring alone, or when you aren’t comfortable with the territory. If you are out later in the afternoon, don’t start exploring – you won’t have long once dusk comes.
This is definitely among our top pieces of trail running advice! We have already mentioned taking your phone in case of any incidents but also consider other safety advice. If you are heading out alone tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be. Make sure you are familiar with the trails, leave exploration for when you are with others. don’t go rock climbing or tackling anything too technical without the relevant equipment.
It is critical that you are visible when you are out running. Even running in daylight can be a hazard. Imagine running on a blind corner when something comes up behind you. Much easier to be spotted if you are wearing bright, fluorescent colours. At night, make sure you have reflective gear and a head torch. Try not to run on winding, country lanes when you may not be seen until it’s too late.
Work on your core
A strong core is essential for trail runners, especially when it comes to tracking steep climbs and tricky descents. Stability and balance will come from having that strength. We recommend a number of exercises and equipment that can be used to improve your core and make you a better trail runner.
Get the map out
An OS map is a great way to discover new routes and trails. Alternatively, with a Strava subscription, you can create routes. There is somewhat of a divide in the camp on this one as one of us prefers Strava and the other prefers handling the OS map. It’s lead to a few ‘words’ when trying to recce routes. It’s not an uncommon debate though – some love to hold a map, some prefer to use an app.
Keep your eyes on the trail
Tree roots, rocks, uneven ground are one thing to keep an eye on but also take stock of the views and what is going on around you. While you should be focused on where your feet are landing, if you are always staring at the ground you may miss wildlife such as deer and buzzards or beautiful landscapes. Always moving gingerly on the trails and looking down may cause you to tense and even fall.
Don’t be a fair-weather runner
If we only waited for the best days to get out on the trails we wouldn’t spend much time running. We’d also miss out on some truly incredible experiences. Running with the rain beating down on you, the wind in your face, and the snow falling, while cold and wet, offers something quite liberating. We’ve also given up trying to navigate around puddles and find ourselves running right through thanks to decent trail running shoes that drain quickly.
Leave Your Ego at Home
While you can run trail competitively, when you are running with friends, or in a group, it’s not about who is the fastest, who can finish first or who is the strongest. Trails are best enjoyed with friends in a more social and relaxed environment. If you are going to get to the top of your hill and tap your feet while you wait for everyone else to catch you up then you won’t be getting the enjoyment you should be.
Our top piece of trail running advice is to enjoy. Forget pace, weather, how many climbs there are, what terrain lies ahead, whether you are going to get wet feet or muddy shoes, and just enjoy being out and about in beautiful parts of the world. Explore the trails, enjoy with friends, make the most of the peace, and escape day-to-day life for an hour or so.
This is just some of our top trail running advice, we would be here all day if we poured out everything we knew in one article. We hope that you will find much more on the pages of this website. If you have any trail-running advice to share, just drop them in the comments below. We’d love to hear your top tips.
Disclaimer: Many of our posts may contain affiliate links. We may earn commissions if you shop through the links on this page although we only ever recommend products that we genuinely believe will enhance your trail running experience.