If you’re a road runner, the idea of getting out onto the trails can be a little intimidating. But give it a few strides and you’ll see why trail runners are so passionate and why there’s such a fun, loose vibe at trail races. Here are a few pointers to help you make the switch from pavement to dirt.
- Don’t Time Yourself
Okay, who am I kidding—you’re probably going to time yourself. Just don’t beat yourself up about it. Unless you’re running a familiar route, no two miles on trails are the same. The whole goal of trail running is to enjoy your body, enjoy the trail, and soak in nature.
- Don’t Get Lost (unless you like doing that)
A satisfying run can go sour pretty quickly if you find yourself off-course and unprepared or out of time. Trail running is more than just running—it’s also orienteering. There may not be landmarks to guide you, or they may look different when approached from a different angle. So plan your route and pay deliberate attention as you go down the trail.
- Dress for This Afternoon
Bring a pack with clothes that layer. My strongest cautionary memory is my brother looking up at the blue sky from the parking lot and saying “It’s not going to rain,” then putting his jacket back in the trunk. Watching him shiver uncontrollably with hypothermia four hours later was a rather sobering experience.
- Go with a Friend (unless you really like running alone)
Trail running with a friend has a couple of huge benefits. First, running frees the mind and the heart, and you’re together for a long time, maybe hours. Some of my best conversations have been on the trail. Second, there are risks on the trail you don’t have when running on the road. Technical aspects like rocks and roots can easily bring spills, and you won’t necessarily be near help if anything goes wrong including an encounter with a rattlesnake, moose, or other wildlife. Trail running is time spent in the woods, so backcountry knowledge is a handy skill.
- Bring Enough Nutrition and Hydration
With trail running, proper nutrition and hydration are a must. Other than an injury, nothing wrecks a run quite like dehydrating or feeling the energy drain out of your legs. Invest in a hand-held water bottle and, as your runs grow longer, get a hydration vest. Experiment with different food to see what gives you energy and sits well in your stomach. The right nutrition and hydration level is very much an individual thing, and something you will have to learn about yourself.
- Follow Your Bliss
If you had a distance planned, but you’re in the zone: keep going. If you’re curious, explore. If you’re blown away by the scenery, stop and let it wash over you. If you’re tired, slow down or stop for a while to rest. This is not a track meet. This is you and nature, one on one. //
Brad Thiessen is Race Director for the Mountain Magic 5/10/25k Trail Run and Marathon, June 17 & 18 at Mt. Spokane State Park. Learn more at Mountainmagicrun.com.