Trail running guide for beginners: how to get started

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Trail running – whatever your fitness level – is for everyone. No matter how fast or slow you choose to move, this activity can – and will provide – moments of utter joy and unmitigated bliss due to the strong bond formed between your body, mind and the natural space in which you are moving. For me, an hour on the trail is the gift that keeps on giving.

For many people, the thought of trail running can be a bit daunting. But with a few simple guidelines, it may turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done.

Our beginner’s guide to trail running explores its benefits, how to get started, and the things you’ll need to make your run as enjoyable as possible.

“Trail running with a friend is fun but also good from a safety standpoint,” says Sabrina Pace-Humphreys/Credit: James Appleton, inov-8.com

What is the trail?

Trail running is a form of combined running, walking – and sometimes even climbing – that takes place in natural environments such as fields, woods, hills and mountains. If you are looking down and the terrain and what you see is not man-made, you would normally classify it as a trail.

Is trail running harder or easier than road running?

It depends on the trail. If I am running along a shady towpath on a hot summer day, then compared to running along a sidewalk in full sun, trail running would feel easier. But on the other hand, if I’m rapidly climbing the side of a waterfall or a mountain as part of my trail run, it will feel a lot harder than a road run because of the terrain and the inclination.

Trail running is totally different from road running due to the additional factors you have to consider such as hilly terrain and adapting to the conditions/obstacles underfoot. You’re also unlikely to come across a style on a road!

Sabrina Pace-Humphreys trail running through the mountains

Trail running/credit has many mental health benefits: James Appleton, inov-8.com

What are the benefits of trail running?

The mental health benefits of being outdoors, of being in natural environments, have been proven. There’s no better way to disconnect and reconnect with your body and mind than exercising in green spaces. Many new runners experience injuries and worries when they get into road running, but because of the flexibility and adaptability that trail running demands, overuse injuries are less common. and the together the body is strengthened.

Sabrina Pace-Humphreys trail running through countryside

Walking is not cheating – the nature of trail running is that eventually it will include walking elements due to the terrain / credit: James Appleton, inov-8.com

What should I wear for the trail?

Normally the same clothes you would for any form of exercise – leggings, shorts, t-shirt. You should aim for clothes made from fabric that “wicks away” sweat (pulls it away from the outer layer of fabric). Also, you might want to pack a lightweight waterproof jacket or mid-level top in case you get cold. The distance you cover and the weather conditions should dictate clothing choices.

What do I need to run a trail?

Always carry a fully charged mobile phone with you in case of emergency and make sure you have recorded contact details for ICE. I also make sure I have a GPS mapping app installed on my device – such as the OS Maps app – to refer to if I need directions. I also run with a light running rucksack to store water, a snack, a small medical kit (bandages, blister bandages, a bandage etc.) and – if I need it – a jacket.

Trail Tips: How to Start

  1. Reach– Follow me online and ask questions. If I can’t help you, I’ll know someone who can.
  2. start small – My motto is ‘small steps, big steps’. You want to select a distance that for you is achievable and on manageable terrain as a new trail runner. Think about your neighborhood and the green spaces around you. You may decide to walk/run for a mile – like I did when I started – around the local park. It’s a great starting point.
  3. Invite a friend – Let your friends know what you plan to do and that if they want to join you, they are welcome. While it’s a great solo activity, running with others is also joyful – time flies when you’re chatting. From a safety perspective, you may also feel better running with someone else as you explore new routes during the first few days of your trip.
  4. Shoe– If you think you like trail running, you will need a pair of trail running shoes. They are different from home trainers (they have more grip). Ask for advice or visit your local athletic shoe store to see what’s on offer.
  5. find a trail– This means any green space. The local park is a good start.
  6. Walking is not cheating– The nature of trail running is that ultimately it will include walking elements due to the terrain. Walking doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you are reasonable.
  7. Buy a local map/use an online navigation app– Get to know your area. You will be amazed to find hidden paths you never knew existed! Or use a navigation app like the OS Maps app that makes it easy to find your landmarks, create a route, and follow it.
  8. Mobile phone– Make sure it is fully charged. Why? In case of emergency and also to take great pictures!
  9. THIS– Carry something that clearly indicates your emergency contact details. I keep a plastic card on the back of my phone case.
  10. Food– I like to have an emergency snack on me. Rich in carbohydrates. A snickers bar works for me.
  11. Hydration – Depending on your distance. I always like to pack water, just in case.
  12. Join the black trail runners– We are a community and activist charity that seeks to diversify trail running. If you want to join us – whatever your skin color – you are welcome. Find out more on the Black Trail Runners website

In Sabrina’s New Book Black Sheep: A story of rural racism, identity and hope, among other important topics, she discusses her journey in running, her first trail run and how she is working to make the sport more diverse and inclusive. Buy it here.

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