Trail running is loosely defined as running on any un-paved surface. Generally, it takes place on hiking trails that can vary from gentle rail-trail like paths along the river to treacherous single track up mountainous terrain. The sport is currently experiencing a significant spike in popularity as more and more people seek solace, solitude, and to reconnect with their environment. “Side effects” of trail running include stress reduction, anxiety relief, mood enhancement, increased creativity, and improved physical appearance.
Should any of this sound desirable to you I’d like to offer the following advice to get you started.
I feel incredibly fortunate to live in the great state of New Hampshire. We have a deep rooted history in the outdoors. It’s part of the culture here. Every region has an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. We are world renowned for our hiking, skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, etc. However, no sport has captured my imagination and improved my mental and physical health like the sport of trail running.
There is mounting research suggesting that time spent in natural environments can have a tremendous impact on our well being. Even more research boasting the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Somewhere along the line we confused comfort for happiness. We evolved in nature yet somehow have become more disconnected from it than any generation previous. Countless hours of running through the woods has literally changed my brain chemistry for the better.
Check out our Trail Hub for tips, gear reviews, Trails near you, and more.
The 7 principles of Leave No Trace are a framework to minimize your impact on the environment and ensure that you leave the trails in the same (or better) condition for everybody after you. With more and more people heading out into the wilderness, it’s important to sustain our natural lands. For more information head to Leave No Trace.org.
Be familiar with the area where you run. Not all trails are designed equal: Some trail networks can be confusing spider webs that leave you turned around, lost, and late for work (or worse). Conversely, some trails can be so technically demanding that the idea of “running” them seems laughable. Although it’s fun to explore new areas, start by honing your skills somewhere familiar. Choose a system that is well marked and maintained and use mapping websites like the Run Trail Project to know what to expect.
Don’t expect your road pace to translate to more technical trails. By nature, trail running invokes a more relaxed running pace. Take what the terrain gives you. Don’t feel discouraged if you walk a steep and technical section. Your heart rate will thank you. The trail will generally open back up into more run-able terrain. Trail running is a more dynamic and fuller sensory experience. Notice the silence and changing flora. Take your time and enjoy the journey!
Although good gear can be crucial, don’t rely exclusively on technology like your cell phone. If you find yourself in a situation where tech is faulty and unreliable, know how to use a topographical map. Topographical maps are a marvel of modern day technology, printed on water and tear resistant fabrics. I recently discovered my map floats in water. Train your internal compass and use natural features (like the sun) to help navigate but always have a map ready to reference. Don’t forget to scout the route!
The beauty of trail running is you don’t need a lot of specialized gear to participate. However, it becomes painfully obvious when you choose the wrong gear or neglect to plan ahead.
Footwear is obviously important. However, you don’t need a super aggressive trail running shoe to run on a majority of trails at lower elevation. I actually prefer a road running shoe on less technical terrain, like rail trails. Wearing a road shoe allows me the freedom to connect trails with sections of pavement. Trail shoes are not particularly comfortable on sustained stretches of pavement but road shoes can handle less demanding trails.
Conversely, I would never consider running in the White Mountains or aggressive uneven terrain in anything less than a pure trail running shoe. They have the grip to deal with roots and rocks, the upper to take wet conditions, and the fit to keep you stable as you run downhill.
It is important to always consider the terrain and remember that hydration not only increases performance but also the experience. Always remember to bring water! There’s really no excuse not to with the advancement in water carrying products including hydration vests from Nathan and Amphipod
Consider apparel with additional pockets and sun blocking capabilities in summer. Learn how to layer properly when temperature gets colder. If ever in doubt, always feel welcome to seek the friendly advice at your Runner’s Alley.