We are very fortunate where we live in that we are never more than a mile away from our nearest trail. Until recently, we lived on the edge of the Mendips and could trot to the end of the village before we had access to a myriad of trails. Now our house backs onto the local woods, we have the beach just a stone’s throw away and beautiful trails surrounding us. It was only today, while out exploring that I discovered a new network of trails. This got me thinking – what do you do if you don’t have trails to run – how do you train for trail running when there are no trails? We share our top tips for effective training for trail running when you may be struggling to find local trails. 

What is trail running?

Trail running is a dynamic and invigorating form of outdoor exercise that involves traversing natural terrain, often away from paved roads and urban landscapes. Unlike traditional road running, trail running takes enthusiasts into the heart of nature, navigating a variety of surfaces such as dirt paths, rocky trails, and forested routes. This immersive experience not only provides a unique and scenic backdrop but also introduces a level of unpredictability and challenge as runners encounter inclines, descents, and uneven surfaces. Trail runners embrace the serenity of the outdoors, relishing the connection with nature and the physical demands that come with navigating diverse landscapes. With its emphasis on exploration, endurance, and adaptability, trail running is not just a workout but a journey into the beauty and unpredictability of the natural world.

Where can you find trails? 

Trails are anything that doesn’t involve tarmac. You may think that there aren’t any trails near you and that your only choice is tarmac but if you sit down and think about it, you may be surprised to discover trails where you least expect it. You will find trail paths in the woods, across fields, the beach. If you were to sit and make a list, any one of these could count as trail running:

Public parks: Many parks have grassy areas, wooded sections, or natural paths that may not be official trails but are suitable for trail running.

Beaches: Running on sand can provide a challenging workout and is easier on the joints. Beaches often have less crowded areas where you can run.

Open spaces: Look for open spaces, such as fields, meadows, or open countryside. Be mindful of private property and obtain necessary permissions if required.

Nature reserves: Check if there are any nature reserves or wildlife areas nearby. These areas may have less-defined paths that can be suitable for trail running.

Greenbelts: Some urban areas have greenbelts or undeveloped natural spaces where you can find more rugged terrain.

Riverbanks: Running along riverbanks or creeks can provide a scenic and challenging trail-like experience.

Hiking paths: Even if there are no official running trails, hiking paths can often be used for trail running. Be sure to respect other users and yield the trail when necessary.

Create your own path: If it’s safe and allowed, explore open areas and create your own trail. Be mindful of the environment and avoid damaging the ecosystem.

Use technology: Apps like AllTrails or Google Maps can help you find nearby open spaces or natural areas that might be suitable for trail running. Strava and Garmin Connect also allow you to build routes that you can download to your GPX watch. 

Join running groups: Connect with local running groups or communities. Members may know of hidden or less-known trails or off-road routes.

Remember to prioritize safety when trail running in non-traditional settings. Let someone know your intended route, carry essentials like water and a phone, and be aware of your surroundings. Always respect the environment and adhere to local regulations.

What if there are no trails?

If you have exhausted all of the above and still lack any decent trails to train on, you could consider getting in your car and driving a few miles to find your nearest one. If this is not a practical solution and you lack both the terrain and the elevation required to train effectively, here are some more top tips. 

Find a hill and do some hill repeats 

While you may not get the same effects of the uneven terrain of a trail hill, you can still train your body to run up hills, and down. Find a local hill and do some hill repeats. One of our favourite sessions is a 40-minute continuous session where we find a hill of approx 0.25 – 0.5 miles and then run up and down using the down as the recovery for a full 40 minutes. You can find more on this session here. 

Use a treadmill

While not the same as outdoor trails, treadmills with variable incline settings can help simulate uphill and downhill running. Mix up your workouts with different speeds and incline levels.

Strength training

Strengthen your core and lower body muscles to improve stability and handle the uneven surfaces of trails. Exercises like lunges, squats, and balance exercises are beneficial.

Trail running videos

Watch trail running videos to familiarize yourself with the techniques and movements involved. Visualizing the experience can enhance your mental preparedness.

Long runs on different surfaces

If trails are unavailable, incorporate long runs on diverse surfaces like grass, dirt roads, or gravel paths to build endurance and acclimate your body to different terrains.

Focus on endurance training

Endurance training is paramount for trail runners seeking to conquer the challenges of diverse and often rugged terrains. Trail running demands a unique set of physical and mental fortitude, requiring athletes to sustain prolonged efforts over uneven surfaces and varying elevations. Endurance training for trail running typically involves a combination of long-distance runs, interval training, and hill workouts to enhance cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. The emphasis on aerobic capacity is essential, as you often navigate through undulating landscapes for extended periods. Additionally, incorporating strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance drills becomes crucial to mitigate the risk of injuries on uneven trails. As trail running events can span different distances and elevations, a well-rounded endurance training regimen is key to building the resilience and stamina necessary for tackling the unpredictable and scenic challenges that trail running presents.

Conclusion

Even if you don’t have regular access to trails, you can still effectively train for trail running by incorporating trail-specific exercises and simulating trail conditions in other environments. By focusing on endurance, agility, strength, and mental preparation, you can improve your performance and stay safe on the trails.

Remember to also prioritize nutrition and hydration to properly fuel your body for challenging runs. With the right strategies and mindset, you can take your trail running to the next level, even when you’re limited to running on roads or tracks.

So, don’t let limited access to trails discourage you from training for your next off-road adventure. Use the tips and techniques outlined in this article to create an effective training plan and maximize your performance on the trails. Happy running!

FAQ

How can I train for trail running when there are no trails to run?

There are several strategies you can incorporate into your training routine to prepare for trail running even if you don’t have regular access to trails. You can focus on endurance training, strength training, and agility training. Additionally, you can simulate trail conditions by finding suitable alternative surfaces and incorporating cross-training activities into your routine.

Why is trail-specific training important?

Trail-specific training is essential because trail running offers unique benefits that differ from running on roads or tracks. It helps improve your balance, coordination, and quick reactions, which are crucial for navigating the challenging terrain found on trails.

How can I build endurance when training for trail running?

To build endurance for trail running, you can incorporate different workouts and techniques into your training routine. These may include long-distance runs, interval training, hill repeats, and incorporating elevation gain into your runs.

How can I enhance my agility for technical terrain?

Improving agility for technical terrain requires specific exercises and drills that focus on balance, coordination, and quick reactions. Some examples include lateral hops, single-leg exercises, and practicing quick changes in direction.

What muscles should I focus on when strength training?

When strength training for trail running, it’s important to focus on key muscle groups that are engaged during trail running. These include the glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings, and core muscles. Exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, and planks can help strengthen these areas.

How can I simulate trail conditions if I don’t have access to trails?

If you can’t access trails regularly, you can still simulate trail conditions elsewhere. Look for suitable alternative surfaces such as grass, sand, or gravel. You can also incorporate uneven terrain by running on trails with different elevations or using stability discs or foam pads for additional challenges.

What are the benefits of cross-training for trail running?

Cross-training activities can complement your regular running routine and improve your overall fitness and performance on the trails. Examples of cross-training activities for trail running include cycling, swimming, hiking, and strength training exercises that target different muscle groups.

How can I mentally prepare for trail running?

Mental preparation is crucial for trail running. You can develop a strong trail-running mindset by setting goals, visualizing success, practicing positive self-talk, and implementing mindfulness techniques. Managing fear, staying focused, and embracing the challenges that come with trail running are key aspects of mental preparation.

What safety precautions should I take when trail running?

When trail running, especially in areas with limited access to trails, it’s important to prioritize safety. Choose routes that are suitable for your skill level, and carry essential gear such as a map, compass, first-aid kit, and extra water. Be aware of potential hazards such as wildlife, weather conditions, and trail conditions. Always inform someone about your running plans and consider running with a buddy if possible.

What nutrition and hydration considerations do I need for trail running?

Proper nutrition and hydration are crucial for optimal trail running performance. Before a trail run, fuel your body with a balanced meal containing carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. During your run, carry water or a hydration pack and consume electrolyte-rich drinks or gels. After your run, replenish your body with a combination of protein and carbohydrates to aid in recovery.