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 revisiting your favourite places on foot, there are some golden rules of trail running, and some mistakes to avoid. We take a look at some common trail running mistakes and how you can avoid them.
This easily accessible sport is a form of exercise that lets you escape everyday 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. To ensure that you get the maximum enjoyment out of your off-road running experience, let’s take a look at what not to do!
1. Doing Too Much, Too Soon
Many runners who 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 a 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 were 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 are 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 marathon 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 farmland then a 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. Expect it Not to hurt
In addition to the aches and pains that come from finding those muscles you had forgotten you had, you will also encounter all manner of unpleasant things which include but are not limited to:
- Nettle stings – ouch is a word that regularly escapes my lips
- Bramble scrapes – I have lost count of the times I have tripped on a bramble that has ended up wrapped around my ankle or got a thwack in the face from a wayward bramble
- Ankle twisters – loose rocks, uneven rutted grass, potholes… all potential hazards from rolling an ankle
- Kicking a rock – this is why you need rock plates in your trail shoes – kicking a rock really hurts
5. 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 Hoka, Altra, Salomon, and Inov-8 that specialise in all kinds of trail shoes.
We like a pair that will transition between road and trails – the Nike Pegasus 4 are good for this but not so great in heavy mud. You also don’t need to invest a fortune. You can check out Amazon or SportsShoes who have a whole host of trail shoes including those from last season. In fact, we often buy last season to save money and because we usually find a pair we like and stick with them for as long as they are made. That said you can’t beat a decent pair of Hoka Speedgoats!
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.
6. Not Taking a Phone
While you may want to get away from the stresses and strains of everyday 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.
7. Not Telling Someone Where You Are Going
If you are going out alone, no matter where, or what time, it is important that you tell someone where you are going, how long you expect to be and, if possible, set up GPS tracking on your phone. There are several apps that you can use. Personally, I use Find My iPhone which is set up on my nearest and dearest’s phones. We don’t want to put you off but if anything should happen, especially on some of the rocky mountain trails of America, a fall for example can be catastrophic. Only the other day we read a story about a woman who had luckily been found in the nick of time on a freezing cold trail after having got horribly lost.
8. Not Planning a Route
If you are good with distances and you know exactly where you are going and how long it will take, you might want to plan a route. Nothing worse than going out ad-hoc, and not planning a route. You think it’s going to be 6 miles, it ends up being 10 plus and you take a wrong turn only to have it add another few miles. Use an app like Garmin, Strava, OS maps etc to plot a route and then share it with someone so they know where you are going. If you have a Garmin Fenix, you can upload it to the watch and follow it so you don’t end up taking a wrong turn.
9. Not Wearing Glasses or Contacts
Before we start on this one, we should clarify – only wear them if you need them. You don’t actually need to start wearing eyewear if you don’t need them. The point is, while you may be able to get away with running on the road without them, on the trails it is a different story. there are so many more hazards that you might be able to avoid if you can see properly. Sunglasses are also advisable in certain circumstances. Be warned though – on wooded trails when the sun is shining down through the trees, it can make it difficult to see certain hazards.
There are many trail running mistakes to avoid – some will limit your enjoyment, and some can actually be dangerous. While the number one rule is to enjoy yourself, it is also important to get it right.
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.