The Complete Guide to Trail Running for Beginner Runners

Running offers various health benefits, whether you are a beginner or a professional athlete. According to Insider, it promotes weight loss, improves sleep, strengthens muscles, and enhances cardiovascular and mental functions.

You can find different running types and methods depending on your stamina levels. These include fartlek, interval, progression and temp run, and sprints, but nothing matches the popularity of trail running for beginners.

It is an excellent activity for beginners in different seasons, including summer. Most people think that trail running is all about climbing hills, but this is not true! So you can run on trails, mud, grass, and over rocks.

You can even run over snow during the winter season. But what exactly is trail running? Runners define it differently, but we believe it is a sports activity that requires you to run on an unpaved surface.

For instance, you can run in areas with steep gradients, but this is not always true. Unlike mountain running, trail running does not require an elevation, but you must practice it off-road to make the most of it.

How can trail running benefit you? What is the best way to approach trail running? How do you practice it? What do you need to get started? Let’s answer these questions based on our experience and research in this post. 

What Are The Benefits of Trail Running for Beginners?

Instead of going to the gym or buying an expensive treadmill, you can benefit from trail running on bridleways in a pleasant and open countryside. We found a systematic review study in the National Library of Medicine highlighting that running can lower the risk of death caused by cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Trail running offers health benefits and soothes and calms your mind by helping you get closer to nature and spending quality time outdoors. Let’s delve into the details! 

Strengthens Your Core Muscles

Do you want to strengthen your core muscles without performing boring planks and crunches? Well, the best way to do this is by hitting the trails. Trail running involves quick directional changes, uneven footing, and increased focus, making it an excellent core workout. 

You will stay upright and navigate different terrains with uneven trails throughout your running session. So this causes full-body tension during the workout and helps you improve your core muscles. 

According to Men’s Journal, trail running engages your core muscles because you must maintain stability while navigating through terrains riddled with roots, rocks, and uneven surfaces. 

Improves Balance and Endurance

Do you want to improve your body balance and prepare for professional competitions like marathons? We suggest focusing on building a solid core and strengthening your lower body, and because trail running is a full-body workout, it strengthens your upper body and lower body muscles to improve your balance. 

In addition, trail running increases your endurance and helps you run for an extended period without hassle, discomfort, and pain in your feet. You build more endurance and increase your anaerobic threshold when you run on a mixed train with even and uneven surfaces at high intensity. 

Reduces the Risk of Injury

Most people believe that trail running can cause more injuries than road running. But we think this is up for debate because it puts less stress on your lower legs. At the same time, trail running challenges your endurance, balance, and stability, allowing you to gain more control of your knees and feet. 

As a result, you can reduce the risk of ACL injuries. Moreover, trail running involves changing the terrain and direction, meaning you can avoid overloading specific muscles, tendons, and ligaments. So this creates a more balanced running approach and lowers the risk of injuries

Brings You Closer to Nature

Research shows that immersing in nature and establishing social relationships are two fundamental aspects of trail running. It helps you get closer to nature and soothe your mind by spending quality time outdoors. Trail running increases blood flow to your brain, causing it to release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. 

These hormones improve your mood, reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, and boost your cognitive functions, making you feel more energetic and committed to repeating your workouts and preparing for running events or competitions. 

How to Start Trail Running as a Beginner?

Trail running lets you spend time outdoors and enjoy nature. It is an excellent way to challenge your body and improve your fitness, but you may find it a little intimidating when running on uneven terrain with inclined surfaces. 

Weather conditions are another factor that can hinder you from regularly practicing it. Don’t worry; We’ve got you covered. You can follow the tips/tricks in this section to achieve your goals. 

Focus On Safety and Equipment

Trail running is not an easy task because it requires careful planning, preparation, good health, and increased stamina. So before you start training for or practice trail running, you must undergo a medical checkup to ensure you are healthy.

You may think that you are healthy and fit, but the chances are that your doctor restricts you from trail running. We believe you must do this to avoid severe injuries in the future and ensure everything goes smoothly.

In addition to consulting your doctor, you must have suitable equipment to get started with trail running. While trail running does not require specialized equipment, you will need a good pair of shoes and lightweight/breathable outdoor clothes, depending on the weather conditions. We recommend considering the following equipment/gear for your trail running:

• Running shoes and socks

• Hydration vest or water bottle

• Walking poles

• Gaiters

• Heart rate monitor

• Headlamp


For example, you must focus on various factors when choosing quality shoes for trail running. These include: 

Stability: This is crucial when choosing a pair of shoes for trail running because it helps you avoid potential injuries that usually result from twisting your ankles. 

Low Profile: High-quality shoes for trail running have a low profile (4-7mm drop) and excellent grip, allowing you to maintain stability and balance on varying/slippery terrains. Remember, you must use your shoes with spikes during winter to avoid slipping and injuries. 

Breathability: Choose shoes with breathable features to reduce the risk of blisters and ensure your feet stay dry for an extended period. 

Durability: Select durable shoes to withstand harsh terrains, especially if you plan to run frequently and focus on the shoe material to resist scratches, hits, water, and mud. 

Create Specific Goals

Besides safety measures and equipment for your trail running regimen, you should set specific goals. You are mistaken if you think you are a beginner and don’t need goals. We believe setting goals is equally crucial for recreational, professional, and beginner athletes because it gives you a sense of direction and keeps you motivated. 

You can set different goals, such as preparing to win a trail challenge 50 kilometers race. You can also set goals to measure your performance, such as increasing your weekly running distance by 10%. On the other hand, process-based goals focus on sports performance. For example, you may want to improve your uphill running economy. 

We always create specific, realistic, measurable, and time-bound goals for our running routines to achieve optimal results, and you should do the same. You can develop short-term objectives as checkpoints and long-term goals to motivate yourself. 

An example of a long-term goal is finishing 100 kilometers trail running race. Likewise, making a record in a 5–10-kilometer run is an example of a short-term objective. 

Start Training Your Body for Trail Running

Trail running is direct from road running, boasting uneven surfaces and varying terrains, so you must consider these aspects when training your body. In general, preparing your body requires running, but you must also incorporate strength training or workouts in your routine. 

Running establishes the base of your training, and you should choose a specific trail to get familiar with the surface. The purpose is to adapt to running on trails. Keep in mind that road running does not prepare your body for sudden changes in terrain and altitude. Therefore, we suggest practicing the following to train your body for trail running. 

Perform Light Exercises

Focus on light exercises under an aerobic threshold to improve your endurance. Although the aerobic threshold varies from person to person, it is 40 beats below your maximal heart rate. It depends on your physical activity and endurance levels. 

The primary objective of light exercises is to burn fatty tissues for energy production and increase nutrient flow to muscles. According to BEAUMONT, Long slow distance (LSD) running is an excellent way to engage yourself in light exercises and prepare yourself for trail running. You can also perform cross-country skiing, swimming, and cycling to maintain your aerobic threshold. 

Do Some Intervals

In addition to performing light exercises, we suggest incorporating interval workouts in your training regimen to streamline the entire process. These exercises enhance your aerobic efficiency and aerobic capacity (VO2 MAX). 

It also improves your lactate threshold. You can perform intervals close to maximal intensity or between threshold levels. So engage in interval exercises to boost aerobic energy production and streamline carbohydrate metabolism. 

We recommend finding a trail with an uphill terrain for short-and-fast up-down intervals. Make sure the trail has a flat surface as well. Next, warm up your body for a few minutes and perform 15-minute intervals in increments of 2-5 minutes. 

Perform Sprints to Increase Speed

Sprints can increase your speed, power, and endurance. Running five to eight 30- meter sprints with 6-8 minutes of active recovery between them is an excellent way to boost speed, making you feel less fatigue when practicing trail running. 

A 2018 study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) highlights that sprint interval training can improve time to exhaustion and increase peak power (PP) and mean power (MP) in trail runners. 

Focus On Resistance Training

Resistant training is an essential part of your trail running regimen. It strengthens your muscles, joints, and tissues, decreasing the risk of injury and improving your running time. It is a comprehensive approach to trail running, allowing you to perform at your full potential. 

Research shows that resistant training involves bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, pull-ups, push-ups, planks, and sit-ups to strengthen upper and lower body muscles, increase endurance, gain more speed, and burn more calories. 

Consume A Balanced Diet

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a balanced diet is essential for runners to improve their fitness and wellbeing. Researchers recommended optimal nutrition for runners with a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to increase energy and improve performance. 

A diet rich in essential proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can reduce the risk of injuries for trail runners. It also increases recovery time in case you experience an injury. Take a look at the macronutrient breakdown you should be consuming for optimal trail running:

Carbohydrates: According to Sanford Health, consuming carbohydrates is an excellent way for trail runners to keep their energy levels high and achieve optimal results. It also prevents your body from experiencing low glucose levels while replenishing glycogen levels for efficient and quick recovery. However, you must consume the correct quantity of carbohydrates to avoid complications. REI recommends limiting your carbohydrate intake to 30-60 grams per hour. You will have an upset stomach if you consume more than 60 grams per hour. 

Protein: You can eat dietary proteins to strengthen your muscles and joints. After intense trail running, proteins repair and rebuild your muscles and connective tissues. According to Harvard University, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy are rich protein sources to boost musculoskeletal strength and endurance. If you are vegan, you can consume veggies and fruits to gain essential proteins. However, these foods lack one or more amino acids. 

Fats: According to ELO SMART Nutrition, runners must consume 0.5 to 1.5 grams/kilograms/day to increase energy levels, cushion joints and muscles, and increase strength. 

Hydration: Runners should drink at least 6-8 ounces of water before a run. If you run for more than 30 minutes, you must drink water at regular intervals. However, the amount of water you should consume depends on your sweat rate. If you sweat more, drink 16 ounces of water every 15 minutes. 

Essential Steps For Your First Trail Run

Trail running offers the chance to embrace challenges, enjoy natural beauty, and experience a sense of accomplishment as you conquer new trails. Follow these steps to establish a solid foundation for success and pave the way for a rewarding trail running adventure. 

Step 1: Choose the Right Trail. Begin your trail running journey by selecting a trail suitable for your skill level. Look for well-maintained trails with a mix of flat, smooth sections and gentle inclines. Avoid highly technical trails with steep climbs, sharp turns, and treacherous surfaces until you build your confidence and fitness. You can use trail maps and apps to find local trails that meet your criteria. 

Step 2: Warm Up and Stretch. Always warm up before hitting the trail. Begin with a brisk walk or a light jog for 5- 10 minutes to elevate your heart rate and loosen your muscles. Follow this with dynamic stretching exercises targeting your hips, legs, and ankles. We consider warming up and stretching very important because this routine prepares your body for the rigors of trail running and helps prevent injury. 

Step 3: Focus on Your Form. As you venture into trail running, pay attention to your form. Maintain a slight forward lean, engage your core, and relax your upper body. Keep your stride short and quick to navigate uneven terrain more effectively. Lift your feet higher to avoid tripping on roots and rocks. Refining your form will improve your stability and efficiency on the trails. 

Step 4: Build Endurance. Gradually Increase your trail running distance and intensity incrementally. Start with short, easy runs and gradually lengthen your workouts. Mix in walking breaks when necessary to manage your effort. Listen to your body and adjust your pace accordingly. Consistency and patience will yield improvements in your endurance and trail running ability. 

Step 5: Improve Your Technical Skills. Practice running on a variety of surfaces to develop your technical skills. Try running on gravel, dirt, mud, and rocky terrain to become comfortable with different challenges. As you gain experience, incorporate hill repeats, switchbacks, and technical sections into your workouts. So this will improve your agility, balance, and overall trail running ability.

A Final Recap

Trail running offers an incredible opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, challenge your body, and improve your overall fitness. By selecting the right trail, warming up, focusing on form, building endurance gradually, and enhancing your technical skills, you can experience the full benefits of trail running. 

Don’t forget to invest in proper equipment and maintain a balanced diet to support your journey. Embrace the challenges, appreciate nature’s beauty, and celebrate the sense of accomplishment that comes with running new trails!

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